I will say this for Quantum Theatre: they know how to spoil their audience in terms of location and dining. To match the stand-up comedy theme of Brahman/i, Quantum has set up shop at “The Temple of Comedy” in Garfield. There are plenty of cabaret tables set up inside, and a little basket of Indian food (pictured below) is brought to you after you sit down. There is a large bar in the back, although your options are limited to beer, coffee, or tea. But the first drink is free, so really Quantum: you spoil us.
At 7:45 the “MC” of the “club”, Vinny V, did an opening set. This was a bit problematic as many people were still coming in at this time and weren’t ready to give their undivided attention yet. It’s a nice touch to add to the authenticity of a comedy club, but if the show starts at 8 then the show starts at 8.
Brahman/i is “a one-hijra stand-up comedy show”, which tells the tale of Brahman/i, an intersex comedian who shares experiences of living as a man and a woman. It’s a topic not addressed on stage often, and the show offers some insight into the life of an intersex person and the societal pressures to “pick” one of two genders. The menus on the cabaret tables don’t feature food items, but rather a small intro course to gender identity terms. In this respect, it’s a very informative show.
Now I’ve seen a lot of theater. I’ve seen a lot of standup. The merging of these two mediums can be tricky. The audience my night wasn’t particularly responsive and that happens; sometimes the energy just isn’t there. Now a comedian can arrange their set on the fly, do things a bit differently, tweak some stuff to try and win over an audience. However, an actor going by a script doesn’t have that freedom and has to say the lines a certain way every time. This results in some lines not making any sense, particularly when Brahman/i responds to crowd reactions that never happened.
Sanjiv Jhaveri tirelessly trucks through the two-hour show (it’s billed as 90 minutes but it clocked at 115 when I saw it). It’s the longest one-man show I’ve seen, and if one person is going to speak for two hours then the script better be on point. Sadly, I found Aditi Brennan Kapil’s script to be flat, many jokes were just not sharp and some of them went on a lot longer than necessary. Jhaveri’s energy was good, and props for accomplishing what must be a tiring feat. But I feel the play would be better as a blatant theatrical one-man show with the stand-up element dropped. Time is spent talking about Brahman/i’s life and family, but virtually nothing about doing comedy to make his/her comedian claim believable. Standup is such a personal art form and I think a scripted theater production trying to capture that feeling is a tricky feat.
The show does land some touching moments here and there, perhaps to break down the barriers Brahman/i puts up while performing. An onstage sound guy (David Bielewiez) provides sound effects and guitar strumming as a score for the show (again, something you’d find in a theater piece and most likely not a comedy club). It seems a tad unnecessary at times, but it slowly becomes clearer this accompanist is essential to the story.
The play Brahman/i, like the character, seems to be struggling to find its identity. The script needs a good weeding, for both time purposes and to remove a few flat jokes. But the cast and production team have worked hard at Quantum, that much is obvious. There’s a good story in there, I’m just not sure Brahman/i needs to be a comedian to tell it.
Directed by Shishir Kurup
Written by Aditi Brennan Kapil
Designed by Britton Mauk (scenery), Richard Parsakian (costumes), C. Todd Brown (lighting), David Bielewicz (sound)
Starring Sanjiv Jhaveri (Brahman/i), David Bielewicz (J), Vinny V (MC)
Production photos by Heather Mull
The show runs Wed-Sun until February 22nd. Tickets can be purchased here.
Performance Date: January 31, 2015