Once in a very rare while a play captures your utmost attention. And if you are lucky enough you get great actors and a smart director with a staff of more than capable designers to augment the words – the words that the playwright has supplied to surprise, to enlighten and to entertain.
INVASION! a Swedish sleeper of a play at Walkerspace (46 Walker Street) by Jonas Hassen Khemiri fits that bill to a tee. It awakens and arouses the senses of playgoers with one surprise after another with its startling and astonishing insight into words, the perception of words and of the perceptions of people who speak them.
Let’s start with the words. There are plenty. All exceptional. And exceptionally put together by the playwright who has entertainment as well as enlightenment of some very serious subject matter on his mind.
One word in particular: “Abulkasem” is used throughout the ninety minute play to mean a multitude of things. It can be an insult or a compliment. It can mean something good or something bad. It can mean most anything. It can be a person. But unlike some words that become overused and then disappear, “Abulkasem” is here to stay.
The translation by Rachael Willson-Broyles falls perfectly on the ear keeping intact the intent of the playwright, his rhythms, his overlapping of dialogue and his humor. It appears to be a perfect marriage – an “Abulkasem” so to speak.
The action is scattered, taking place in a High School lunchroom, a local bar, in front of an apartment door where Actor C – Francis Benhamou has locked herself out yet again, at a Seminar, on a TV show with a panel of experts discussing “Abulkasem”, at the simultaneous translation that goes akimbo of an apple picker (Actor A – Andrew Guilarte) who seeks asylum, and at a weekend home where Actor D – Bobby Moreno, in a poignant and riveting monologue describes some frightening goings on by a neighbor.
I haven’t yet mentioned Actor B. He is Debargo Sanyal. A meticulous actor full of promise and manic energy with a talent for accents who can say more in silence than anyone can with a mouthful of words – no matter how wonderful those words may be in this case. He is a marvel and I thought as much when I first saw him a few years ago when I predicted great things for him. He has not disappointed.
Nor do the three other actors. They all get to take center stage and own it. The wonderfully natural and attractive Ms. Benhamou has that star-like glimmer that radiates from Linda Lavin. Her translation scene with Mr. Guilarte (speaking Arabic) is timed to perfection – a beautiful combination of writing, direction and acting.
Although the action and thoughts and characters change before our eyes, director Erica Schmidt has done a masterful job at keeping everything clear and precise and surprisingly surprising. She is aided tremendously by the great lighting design of Matthew Richards, set design by Antje Ellermann and costumes by Oana Botez-Ban.
INVASION! is the perfect production to wake you from those winter doldrums. Through March 12th. www.playco.org