As Invasion! begins, black-clad actors start reciting stilted poetry about an Arab corsair named Abulkasem. My heart sinks. Could this actually be the play? Suddenlyspoiler alert here!a loud disdainful farting noise emanates from the audience. The sourcesa pair of menacing teenagers in baggy clothesare hustled towards the exits. Instead they romp onto the stage, rip down the tacky curtains, kick the actors off, and start the real play.
Travels through the Orientalism
By Jonas Hassen Khemiri,
translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
46 Walker Street
This is the first of many cliché-demolitions conducted by Swedish playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri. The ruffians ruthlessly mock the Orientalist claptrap they interrupted. But they love the name Abulkasem, adopting it as slangexpressing first derision, then intense approval.
The words flexible meaning foreshadows the many Abulkasems we meet in obliquely connected satirical sequencescrisply directed by Erica Schmidt for the Play Companyabout the fantasies fevered Western imaginations concoct about the East. The meaning of Arabs, too, Khemiri suggests, is flexible.
The most troubling scene: A detained migrant worker speaks passionately through an interpreter. The vitriol is instantly familiar: suicide-bombings, death to the Jews. Abruptly, we hear Abba lyrics amid the Arabic, and realize the workers actually just gabbing about his pop music obsessions. The translator is translating him into a monstrous Abulkasem (as we have, too).
If youve ever wished somebody would write a razor-sharp play anatomizing lazy paranoia about the Middle Eastsomebody has.