New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"The Higher Education of Khalid Amir"
At the Workshop Theaters (Midtown International Theatre Festival), Manhattan

Jewish themes and characters are well represented in New York’s current fringe festival—called the Midtown International Theatre Festival. A recent satirical piece, titled “The Higher Education of Khalid Amir,” deals with Jewish-Muslim-Christian interrelations on a Midwestern college campus. In the process, all institutions and characters are held up to ridicule, but the major targets are the American government and the media.

In fact, playwright Monica Bauer’s hilarious absurdist play, “Higher Education” takes us on a dizzying journey through her imaginary (or not so imaginary) world. She throws every type of person into the mix--a whirl of straights, gays, cross-dressers, Jews, Muslims, Christians. They are all skewered.

But the Jews are more sympathetically portrayed than others. Norm, a Jewish professor, is the one who champions human rights, does not hesitate to speak out, even if his job is on the line. And Juanita Juarez, the professor of Latino history, turns out to be a nice Jewish girl from Manhattan’s upper west side, nee Juanita Berkowitz. Why has she changed her name, hidden her true identity? It is the only way, it seems, for her to be hired to lecture on Latino culture and politics. But she, too, is a feisty supporter of liberal causes.

What is the plot on which Bauer hangs all this? The Statue of Liberty has been covered with a burka (the traditional covering of Arab women), launching a cross-country rampage of burka-ed statues. The government sees this as high treason and goes after Khalid Amir, an Arabic history professor at Denver State, who is in fact no terrorist. But he is a gay man and a cross dresser—worse crimes, as some saw them. In short, nothing is sacred. Characters are wildly exaggerated and scenes are replete with physical shtick and hilarious exchanges.

Under Craig J. George’s facile direction, the story moves non-stop from scene to scene, with Joan Barber, Amir Darvish, Amanda Duarte, Alexander Elisa, John Fico, Norm Golden, and Tyler Hollinger as partners in crime. But particularly worthy of note are Fico as the nutty FBI man and Hollinger as a self-important television reporter.

The fringe festival is necessarily a collection of plays-in-process, and this offering is one of the better. Monica Bauer has a wild imagination, a unique style, and a way with language.

-- Irene Backalenick
July 20, 2008

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