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? Suddenly—spoiler alert here!—a loud disdainful farting noise emanates from the audience. The sources—a pair of menacing teenagers in baggy clothes—are hustled towards the exits. Instead they romp onto the stage, rip down the tacky curtains, kick the actors off, and start the real play.
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 slang—expressing first derision, then intense approval.
The word’s flexible meaning foreshadows the many “Abulkasems” we meet in obliquely connected satirical sequences—crisply directed by Erica Schmidt for the Play Company—about 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 worker’s actually just gabbing about his pop music obsessions. The translator is translating him into a monstrous “Abulkasem” (as we have, too).
If you’ve ever wished somebody would write a razor-sharp play anatomizing lazy paranoia about the Middle East—somebody has.