Arts & Culture

‘Invasion!’ challenges audiences, casts light on Muslim experiences

Sock and Buskin’s production offers series of vignettes that highlight talented direction, action

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An unconventional look into the lives of Muslim individuals in American society, Sock and Buskin’s “Invasion!” interweaves a thought-provoking variety of vignettes.

Who is Abulkasem? The question pervades “Invasion!,” Sock and Buskin’s latest production about the Muslim experience in the Western world. The play is not easy to describe — nor should it be. At its most basic level, the show is a series of intersecting vignettes that trace the ethereal identity of a figure the characters hold to a near-mythological status. At its loftiest, it is a scathing critique of the way American society treats Muslims and other marginalized communities.

The play opens with a coup de theatre, a playful prank on the audience that director Ashley Teague MFA’17 asks us to bear with in her program. From there, viewers follow a series of scenes — rowdy high school students disrupting a class trip, flirtation and harassment in a dive bar, an unreliable Greek chorus consisting of a panel of “experts” and so on.

Certain vignettes stand out for their talented execution, their poignancy and their richness. Chief among them is a scene in which an immigrant apple picker hires a translator to tell his story. As he professes his love for ABBA in Arabic, the interpreter provides intentionally mistranslated English depictions of increasingly stereotypical acts. “I burn the American flag and the Israeli flag!” the translator falsely claims the man is saying, right before the apple picker dances energetically to “Waterloo.”

Haunting the apple picker’s waking hours are repeated calls from Abulkasem, a nerdy young man who used a fake name to pick up a girl at a bar. The girl gave him a fake number — one that turned out to be the apple picker’s, and so Abulkasem has been repeatedly pestering the apple picker under the impression that he is reaching the object of his desire. The name Abulkasem is used throughout the play as a pseudonym, a legend, a scapegoat and a metaphor. The name, of course, stands in for the skewed Western perception of Muslim people, but anyone can be Abulkasem.

“Who is Abulkasem?” the playbill asks. “Is it you?”

Near the end, a panel of pseudo-experts — one of whom is named, appropriately if bluntly, Arnold Drumpt — erupts into a frenzy over the need to track, identify and capture yet another nebulous Abulkasem. One of the panelists shows a video montage of Western depictions of Arabic people, featuring everything from Disney’s Aladdin to CNN reports, and points to every other character, claiming that he — no, him — no, her — is Abulkasem.

“Why does Abulkasem matter?” the moderator asks exasperatedly. No one answers, for no one cares.

Many of the vignettes cannot be done justice in a brief review. The often wraithlike movements of the characters on stage, the nuance of the dialogue and the brilliance of the structure are all necessary to observe for oneself. And that does not mean simply to watch — this play demands the most of its audience, requiring intent listening, thoughtfulness, open-mindedness and engagement. Perhaps the greatest feat of the play is its implicit refusal to allow passivity.

Attention must also be given to the hyper-talented ensemble cast. Each of them adds an integral component to the show, carrying out multiple roles through the duration of the play while maintaining dramatic tone shifts and quick-changes with elegance and professionalism.

“Invasion!” is quite unlike any other contemporary play. Swedish-born writer Jonah Hassem Khemiri’s words, coupled with Teague’s decidedly personal direction and the cast’s skillful acting, has made this show among the strongest of Brown’s performances this year.