Review: Artistry and Acting are Reasons Enough to See I CALL MY BROTHERS at Forum Theatre

By: Sep. 13, 2016
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I can nearly always count on the small, but mighty Forum Theatre to conjure up selections each season that are a little out-of-the-box, and present them with an abundance of creativity. Season 13 is no exception, and it starts off with the area premiere of Jonas Hassen Khemiri's I CALL MY BROTHERS (translated from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles). In the intimate Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, Director Michael Dove and his strong cast of four deal well with the challenges and potential inherent in Khemiri's script, and give the audience a relevant night of theatre that ends - appropriately - with more questions than answers.

Based on an article written in response to the bombing in Stockholm in 2010, the play explores the plight of a Middle Eastern man named Amor (Ahmad Kamal) following a car bombing in his unnamed city. The question is not so much what happened, but rather how Amor internalizes the event as a man who others might regard as suspicious by virtue of his race and religion. As Amor comes to terms with the event and goes about his daily life, he is filled with fear although he tries to blend in the best he can. As he goes on with life, he converses with others in his past and present via telephone. The telephone conversations he has are a blend of fantasy with reality, but give us some insight as to who Amor is, and the types of experiences he has had in his life. The ways that Amor and his friends/relatives remember these conversations is quite often different. There are no facts. Every piece of information, or response to an action, is filtered through an individualized processor.

While Khemiri explores macro issues of race, and especially the role it plays in the human/social response to terrorism in a unique way (i.e. focusing on one individual) a strong and surprisingly comedic start is followed by a messy and repetitive middle, and then a strong ending. With some tightening of the conversations Amor has, it's possible I would have left with less of a feeling of being hit over the head with an array of existing - and at times simplistic - ideas about human behavior, albeit in an artistic way. If Khemiri would have trusted all of his material more, I may have felt differently.

Still, Dove and his cast do everything they can to bring out the best in Khemiri's script. Mr. Kamal, in particular, does an incredible job at displaying Amor's unease in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy. If it had not been made known that he only stepped into the role recently (replacing Maboud Ebrahimzadeh who was cast in a touring production of DISGRACED), I would probably have never known. Script issues aside, Kamal made me care about Amor's plight. Saleh Karaman, Nora Achrati, and Sarah Corey also contribute greatly to the production's success thanks to their versatility, and willingness to embody any given character that comes into contact with Amor - whether in real life or in his mind - within a second or two. The ensemble acting in this production is simply stellar, and is reason enough to go see the show.

Speaking of stellar, so too are the artistic elements which enhance the urgency and grimness of Khemiri's play. Whether it is Max Doolittle's harsh, fluorescent lighting or Justin Schmitz's loud and intense sound design, we are immediately transported into the unsettled chaos that is Amor's mind. A decision to have the actors use corded mics to execute telephone conversations also has artistic merit given the ideas on human behavior and interaction that Khemiri presents for our consideration. Even as the muddled middle unfolded, I remained interested in what Khemiri had to say thanks to the acting and the design.

Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission.

Forum Theatre's production of I CALL MY BROTHERS plays at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre - 8641 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, Maryland - through October 1. Tickets can be purchased online in advance, or in person one hour before the show. As part of the "Forum for All" program, all tickets purchased in person are "pay what you want."

Photo: Ahmad Kamal pictured; by Teresa Castracane Photography.


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