Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I CALL MY BROTHERS challenges and confounds at Cleveland Public Theatre

It’s no wonder in this age of xenophobia, racial profiling and baiting, irrational interpretation of regulations, police brutality and alternate facts being spewed, that when a car bomb goes off in the center of a large American metropolis, a Muslim young man would become paranoid.

I Call My Brothers, multi-award winning author Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s play, which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre, takes the audience on a journey through the mind of Amor, a 20-something Muslim, as he suffers through 24-hours filled with angst, pain and fear.

The idea challenges what is real, is fiction, are actual events and what are fantasies.

We share with Amor his attempt to return a replacement head for a drill, talking almost non-stop on the phone, revisiting a relationship with the woman of his dreams who rejected him, conversing with his dead grandmother, confronting the police, having an extended conversation with a call center operator and attempting to “walk like a person who isn’t think about walking.”  The issue is, which of these events, if any, really did happened? 

Much of the paranoia comes from the realization that the Boston Marathon happened, that 911 took place and Arabs and Muslims have had a bullseye painted on their backs ever since.  Will Amor, with his Arab looks, carrying a backpack in crowded New York, be the next subject of profiling?

On the surface the play would seem to be a strong candidate for a thrilling theatrical experience.  Unfortunately, that is not true.

The author is Swedish.  The play has been translated into English by Rachel Willson-Broyles.  Whether it is the author’s not being an American or the translation, the script doesn’t always hold up well. 

From Amor traversing Times Square, which is a vast, very well-protected area in a major US city (not like a small Swedish village), to his attempt to return the drill head to a Home Depot-like store, of which there are none in New York’s theatre district, to his description of where he is, there is a lack of authenticity.

Performed in a very creative set designed by Douglas Puskas, which has many car parts suspended against the back wall, depicting the remains of the car bomb explosion, the set speaks to the play’s theme.  Wes Calkin’s lighting, Alison Garrigan’s costumes and James Gillen Kosmatka’s sound designs all work to effectively aid the production.

But there are some issues with CPT’s production. The pacing seems hurried. The swiftness results in lines often becoming unintelligible and scenes not being allowed to gel, thus robbing the audience of a complete experience.
Salar Ardebili puts full effort into his portrayal of Amor.  He is like the Energizer bunny, non-stop movement.  Unfortunately, his articulation lacks precision, so many of his lines are lost in a blur of unintelligible sounds. 

The rest of the cast, Abdelghani Kitab, Andrea Belser and Rocky Encalada
playing multiple roles, fair better vocally. 

Capsule judgement:  The intention of I Call My Brothers is well justified.  Unfortunately, the script and the production do not totally accomplish the author’s goal.

I Call My Brothers runs through March 4, 2017 at Cleveland Public Theatre. For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.