It’s rare that a production gives you a more intimate internal burden of questions than the satisfaction of answers that you no longer need once the house lights go up. Theater, as the art form of immediacy, is arguably a venue more familiar with entertainment and moral high ground than real political or emotional momentum.
Why? Maybe chronic conflict avoidance. The delights, pains and growth intrinsic to real conversation can’t thrive in the theater without the authenticity and willingness toward our darkness. If we practitioners don’t share our shadows and appeal to an audience’s, how can the dialogue move forward? How do we acknowledge holistically and excruciatingly how our own identities are torn and split from seam to seam, violence and viciousness coexisting alongside our finest virtues?
Directed by Abhi Shrestha, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles and presented by Interrobang Theatre Project, Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s “I Call My Brothers” is a fever performance poem addressing these questions, a meditation on identity, community; what faking it looks like, and what faking it feels like.
Frankly, that’s shortchanging it. By even trying to condense all the ground “Brothers” covers, half a dozen more ideas spring up from the memory of watching our narrator and subject, Amor (Salar Ardebili in a triathlon performance), survive with, hide from, and deceive his family during the twenty-four hours following a car bombing in Sweden. Amor is the everyman that we rarely see: flawed and fallible. His self-image fragments when juxtaposed next to perceptions of him: his family, friends, and the police all chime in at one point or another. He tries to fit in both to others’ expectations as well as his own fantasies and invariably fails.
Meanwhile, the racism of a white state looms.
This is the central tension and success of “Brothers.” Amor and the people who inhabit this world are deeply multifaceted and conflicted by the roles they play for their own safety, comfort and the comfort of those closest to them. This code switching distorts them. We can no longer see a clear picture of anybody or anything because the reality of a self is complex and impossibly distant from our senses. It’s heartbreaking to know all the forms and shapes we cannot consolidate, all the people we fail to see because of our own ideas, the masks we wear blinding us just as they draw us closer together. The ensemble (brilliant performances by Gloria Imseih Petrelli, Tina El Gamal and Chris Khoshaba) ties Amor’s pieces together as best you can sew a broken mirror.
Frequently arrhythmic, tonally one note and without too much levity, “Brothers” is more interested in the integrity of the story than entertaining. But that works for me. Shreshtha and Kemiri’s work sent me down more than one rabbit hole as I saw myself reflected: experience totally different and absolutely the same. (Jay Van Ort)
Interrobang Theatre Project at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 Ridge, (312)219-4140 interrobangtheatre.org, $16-$32. Through February 2.