Side by Side — ‘Brahman/I” explores harrowing, hilarious gender issues
By Catey Sullivan For Sun-Times Media March 26, 2014 5:40PM
Fawzia Mirza explores the masculine Brahman (left) and the feminine Brahmani personae of her Intersex character in “Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand Up Comedy Show.” | | photo by Joe Mazza
‘Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand Up Comedy Show,’ through April 27, Silk Road Rising, Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington. $10-$35. Visit www.aboutfacetheatre.com.
Updated: March 28, 2014 2:47PM
Quick, what’s the very first thing anybody ever said about you? Odds are, it was probably “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl” — the
three small syllables that define how you’re likely to be perceived for the rest of your life. But what if you’re Intersex, a biological mix of chromosomes or genitalia, a boy with ovaries or a girl with testes? Never mind the rest of your life — how are you supposed to survive middle school gym class? And what in the world are you going to do about pronouns?
Aditi Brennan Kapil’s “Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand Up Comedy Show” explores the intersection of gender, politics, grammar and adolescent angst through the lens of an Intersex comic who lives in defiance of the notion that one can be either sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice or snips-and-snails-and-puppy-dog-tails, but never both.
Like it’s title character, “Brahman/i” is a merger of differing structure and styles.
“It amazing, the way the structure mirrors the story,” says director Andrew Volkoff, “‘Brahman/i’ isn’t one thing or the other, not stand-up routine or drama. It’s both.”
Fawzia Mirza portrays the title character in the joint production between About Face Theatre and Silk Road Rising.
“I understand what it’s like to be different,” Mirza says, “I’m a Queer, Muslim, South-Asian woman. That’s a lot of minority layers. Plus, I was really pudgy growing up.”
Mirza also understands funny. “I grew up in a mostly white, Christian neighborhood. So I was different. I figured out how pretty fast how to use humor as a defense mechanism, to get the cool kids to like me. I also found it was a great way to circumvent sorrow,” she says.
Her resume includes training at both Chicago’s iO and the School at Steppenwolf. Since walking away from a career as an attorney several years ago, she’s cut a swath through Chicago’s theater community, working on stages throughout the city and riffing on “brown girl problems,” among other topics at comedy clubs. She’s also developed an avid following for her online Web series “Kam Kardashian,” wherein she plays the long-lost lesbian Kardashian sister. Like the stand-up routine that fuels “Brahman/i,” Mirza’s comic stylings reflect a mashup of the personal and the political, of withering social commentary filtered through the trials and triumphs of a genre-busting individual.
“Tell people you’re South-Asian and so many times they’ll immediately respond with, ‘Oh, I love curry!’,” Mirza continues, “I’m proud of my culture’s cuisine and all, but I feel like sometimes we South Asians get diminished to our food or our clothes. ‘Brahman/i’ goes so far beyond that. It’s wonderful to have a piece that helps shows we’re more than our Bollywood movies.”
Indeed “Brahman/i” goes far deeper than Bollywood movies in its story of harrowing and hilarious gender adventures. The stand-up routine is rich with the title character’s memories of trying to be a boy (Brahman) and then a girl (Brahmani), all the while desperately wanting to go by the gender-neutral name “B.”
B flummoxes everyone from callous P.E. teachers to narrow-minded mean girls and dunder-headed jocks. The sole person who isn’t thrown off-balance by B’s gender fluidity is a beloved aunt who schools her young relative in the sacred role omni-gendered and “third-gender” (Hijra) beings hold in Indian mythology and society.
“Many Hindu Gods are both men and women,” explains director Andrew Volkoff. “Sometimes I think we didn’t start putting people in boxes until new religions like Christianity came along. Being able to say this goes here and that goes there, this is black and this is white, can be so reassuring. But most of us spend most of our time in the gray areas. Most of the time it’s not ‘either/or,’ it’s ‘both/and.’”