I’ve never cried during a stand-up routine, at least not until I saw “Brahman/i: A One Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show.” And while there was no shortage of quick-witted and well-aimed humor, these weren’t tears provoked by laughter. Rather, they were the silent kind that slide down a cheek not calling attention to themselves, but causing your mascara to run nonetheless.
To be fair, “Brahman/i” isn’t exactly your traditional stand-up shtick, but one of Aditi Brennan Kapil’s plays from her series, The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy, which is being presented by Company One Theatre at Boston Center for the Arts. Modeling her script in much the same way many contemporary comics do—a narrative instead of one-liners or slapstick—Kapil has penned a show for Brahman/i, an intersex Hindu whose act, they disclose, relies “heavily on the whole just being Indian thing” and “on your lascivious curiosity about what’s in my pants.”
Actress Aila Peck, who dons an androgynous getup and layers on the attitude, owns the material; not a single utterance feels scripted or superfluous. When Peck exclaims, “Who’s the fucker who invented the pronoun?” the words ring true as the cathartic comedy of the “gender-confused” Brahman/i. More than a string of jokes—though Brahman/i does serve up a potent pot of jabs that tackle post-colonialism, sexuality, family, lazy Americans, and acceptance—the two-hour show reveals the insecurities, heartbreak, and, ultimately, acceptance, of someone who grapples with identity, and the cruelty the world has bestowed upon them as a result. Peck—with support from gentle giant J on the guitar (a delightful Casey Preston, his second role of the night)—handles transitions from laugh-out-loud moments to anecdotes about having classmates try to take a picture up their skirt with delicate ease, respecting the heaviness of such a story. Obviously, she, Kapil, and director M. Bevin O’Gara are aware of the effect humor can have on impacting necessary change.
On its own, the ending of “Brahman/i” may or may not have moistened my cheeks, but because I watched it as the conclusion to The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy series, my blubbering was inevitable. On weekends, Company One presents the entire series—marathoning, if you will—from 3pm to 9pm, with breaks for sodas, sunlight, and samosas. The back-to-back is rewarding as similar themes and language unite the starkly different stories.
In “Shiv,” directed by Summer L. Williams, the daughter of Indian immigrants harbors anger at (and the anger of) her late father, unable to move forward in her life as a result. While the set at times feels clumsy, and the flame between Shiv (Payal Sharma) and Gerard (Preston) flickers when it should glow, the peak into the life of a third-culture kid is delivered with wisdom reminiscent of Kapil’s contemporary Jhumpa Lahiri. Next up, “Chronicles of Kalki,” also directed by O’Gara, is slow off the blocks, but a quartet of talented actors (Stephanie Recio, Pearl Shin, Brandon Green, Ally Dawson) pushes on, building a beautiful, harrowing story of adolescent friendship. By the time you get to “Brahman/i,” you’ve been perfectly primed to laugh and cry. And if Brahman/I doesn’t incite at least one of the two, well then, I’d be curious to hear why not.
COMPANY ONE PRESENTS THE DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY. BCA PLAZA THEATRE, 539 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. ONGOING THROUGH SAT NOV. 22. FOR SHOWTIMES + TICKET PRICES, VISIT COMPANYONE.ORG