Anand Rao’s “A Muslim in the midst,” the sharp new play about an event that takes place 3 days after September 11th halfway around the world in India opened last Monday for a three-performance run at the Thespis Theater Festival to a standing ovation. The play, which has attracted a great deal of attention due to the subject matter - Islamophobia - doesn’t disappoint.
The story takes place three days following the September 11th attacks in Bangalore, India and opens with a young man, Raj Sunder (played by Ram Kanneganti) sitting in his car waiting for his wife, Priya, to come out of work. Priya (played by Nikita Tewani) is a dedicated Westernized Indian woman who is working for an American company that has suffered casualties in the attack, resulting in the personal loss of friends and colleagues. As Raj sits in the car waiting, he notices that there is a young Muslim couple (played by Deeksha Ketkar as Shabana and Gopal Divan as Haneef) trying to secure a ride to their new home, a town no one seems to recognize. Because of pronunciation, or because perhaps they are Muslim and the city is in a state of alert, no one will give them a ride. As Priya and Raj observe how the Muslim couple is repeatedly shunned, they eventually decide to offer them a ride part of the way and take the strangers into their car.
Based on true events, the play is essentially a conversation about the contrasts in their lives, their beliefs, their culture and religion, and most importantly how they perceive each other. It is a clever and clean depiction of everything that is happening around the world when it comes to the Muslim religion and how so many people deal with the question of terrorism. The beauty of the material is that it poses questions, tries to answer them from from both perspectives, and creates a moment in time that deals with a subject of utmost importance.
Rao’s work is important and it is unique in that it takes a major American event and turns it on it’s head, giving us a fresh perspective never before seen on a New York stage. The action is relatively static since they are mostly driving in a car and could fall flat if not for the strong dialogue Mr. Rao has written and the clean direction by director Kim Sharp. Sharp has recognized the importance of getting emotional resonance out of the actors and they deliver.
Strong performances all around by this talented young cast that make for a very natural and believable story. There is not one missed beat and quite frankly this is a well rounded ensemble work. In effect, you really appreciate and understand each character if not fully agree with their point of view. What more could you ask for? The characters feel authentic and are memorable.
The production quality is also quite impressive for a festival outing and the Thespis delivers with beautiful stage lighting, sound effects and other visual effects in the form of background slides in lieu of a black box set. Kudos all around.
You have one more day to catch this almost sold out production on Sunday, September 18th at 3:30PM at the Hudson Guild Theatre at 441 West 26th Street.
Tickets can be found by clicking here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2561283 or if you want to risk it, at the door.
Don’t miss it.