‘Brahman/i’ a fine comic effort that needs more 

click to enlarge Brahman/i
  • Imran Sheikh does excellent stand-up in Crowded Fire Theater’s local premiere of “Brahman/i,” an Indian-American themed romp.
Subtitled “a one-hijra stand-up comedy show,” playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil’s “Brahman/i” aspires to be much more than that.

But where it rests most comfortably, at least in Crowded Fire Theater’s West Coast premiere, is as a nonstop laugh-a-thon. At more than an hour and a half, that’s a lot of hilarity to pack into what is essentially a solo show.

Yet a theme as intriguing as this one — an exploration of the thoughts and feelings of the ultimate misfit, a smart, comically gifted, intersex Indian-American who is required, as a preteen, to choose a gender — calls for more depth than is seen here.

Part of the somewhat labored effort to entertain may be due to New York actor Imran Sheikh’s performance as the title character under Erin Merritt’s direction. As a stand-up comic performing with a guitarist sidekick (a droll, deadpan Mackenszie Drae), Sheikh never allows a glimpse of the true vulnerability beneath Brahman/i’s affable, antic exterior.

The character starts out as male, regaling us with tales of his upbringing, which includes a caring, old-world mother and a nutty auntie who offers nontraditional support (for example, photos of stone-relief pornography seen on temples in India).

Just as he’s starting to be aware of the emerging “boobs” of his middle-school girl classmates, he’s also teased for having “titties” of his own.

A brainiac and a loner, he riffs on Galileo’s confrontation with the church, one of several skits that relate, sometimes only peripherally, to the theme of the misfit as well as to the theme of India’s historic colonization by the British.

Taken separately, the skits (including the myth of Odysseus, the construction of Stonehenge and more) could work well as stand-alone, “Saturday Night Live”-type spoofs. And Sheikh nails the assorted accents and cartoony characters.

In a few playful lessons in Indian history, Brahman/i touts his-her heritage and corrects mistaken assumptions, reminding us proudly that “we are the white man’s burden” that Kipling wrote about.

Part way through, the character transforms into a sexy, sari-clad female, showing how, in middle school, she decided to go girly. In moments like this, we want to know what that was like. But “Brahman/i” adheres strictly to the stand-up comedy frame.

Any painful, multilayered story like this one can be told through humor, but Kapil, witty as she is, and Sheikh, as comically adept as he is, make us laugh until we’re laughed out but not entirely satisfied.



Presented by Crowded Fire Theater

Where: Thick House, 695 18th St., SF

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes June 28

Tickets: $15 to $35

Contact: (415) 746-9238, www.crowdedfire.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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