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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW By Association
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-02-01

This article shared 346 times since Wed Feb 1, 2017
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Playwright: Shepsu Aakhu. At: MPAACT at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $28-$32. Runs through: Feb. 22

Our nation's immediate response to the bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001 was not its finest hour. If it was, the days that followed—after the shock of being attacked on our own ground gave way to a free-floating fear attaching itself to anything or anyone not like "us" ( however you define that term )—were characterized by the primitive paranoia always lurking beneath the veneer of rationality in a fundamentally uncertain universe.

Individuals who have experienced periods of upheaval targeting specific demographics have come to expect a temporary measure of abuse by authorities, based first and foremost on outward appearance. This accounts for the antipathy in our country toward individuals of swarthy ancestry. ( Melanin-rich complexions being a dominant heredity trait, this includes most of the world population. ) At various times in our history, Asian, Mediterranean and Native American individuals have found themselves regarded with hostility in Eurocentric societies, while even at the height of the civil unrest in Belfast, Irish terrorists traveled unmolested through our neighborhoods.

The most entrenched animosity in our country, however, is reserved for those of African descent, whether newly arrived immigrants or 10th-generation U.S. citizens. Shepsu Aakhu's play recounts the trials of Joseph Mason, his Ethiopian wife Almaz and their sons—college-aged Sabona and teenage Abdi, the latter a singer in a multicultural youth choir touring high schools. One day, a bomb is detonated on an "L" train. Surveillance cameras show another choir member, Omar Bulatovic, carrying a backpack and boarding the train. Upon learning that Muslim Omar and Orthodox Christian Abdi have been seen together attending mosque, Homeland Security descends on the Mason family to question Abdi ( whose name is entered in the records as "Abdul" ) regarding his terrorist sympathies.

This worst-case scenario ( Did I mention that Almaz is already prepared for flight, or that Sabona is intercepted wearing Buddhist drag and leafleting for Myanmar? ) could easily be played as caricature, satirical or propagandistic, but Lauren Wells' direction never allows the characters to exceed the boundaries of plausibility, instead granting even the ostensible villains the logic of their misguided assumptions.

We can chuckle at Casablanca's Captain Renault casually declaring "Round up the usual suspects," but in a year where television game-shows propose to instruct us in tactics for escape and evasion, Aakhu's hypothesis makes for timely contemplation: what would you do, if "the usual suspects" meant people like you?


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