Friday, September 9, 2011

"Unveiled": ☼ ☼ BANG

Chicagoan Rohina Malik plays five different women in her new solo show "Unveiled." Maryam, Noor, Inez, Shabana and Layla each have different stories to tell, and each is represented by a different cup of tea. Maryam's chocolate chai represents fusion of cultures; Noor's Moroccan green tea is drunk very sweet to counteract the bitterness of prejudice in her adopted country; Inez's bitter tea has the opposite purpose, to make her remember; Shabana's Kashmiri chai is part of a terrific rap: "When the shit went down in Oklahoma, you blame McVeigh, not Christian preacha, nobody say that's what Bible teacha..." Layla owns a restaurant and serves her customers sage tea, to make their wait more tolerable.

Malik is a performer at heart. She tries to give each character a different body language and personality, but she has a problem. All five women are wearing hijab. They all insist that the hijab is between them and God and has nothing to do with anyone else. The problem is that this attitude may make for spiritual awareness but does not necessarily lead to great theater. We want to get inside our performers, to understand them, to feel their plight. But Malik's characters draw a line between them and us and it feels like more than just fabric. This would be true if they were wearing a nun's habit or the gabardine coat of an Orthodox Jew.

We especially enjoyed Shabana, the London rapper. Her energetic discussion of her mother's obsession with whiteness was especially revealing, as was her definition of wearing the hijab as her own declaration of feminism.

Right now each character wants to let us know she is not our enemy, that the Allah she believes in is peaceful and that she and her family have suffered too. Perhaps in the future Malik can take these characters a little further.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Unveiled" Two Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. What we want to know is if there is more there, aside from being tolerant women of faith.

The BANGLE of PRAISE is for Malik herself. She is a gifted performer and has an important story to relate. Time will tell if her stories can include a little more nuance.

Brava Theater
2781 24th Street at York, San Francisco
Through Sept 17

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