Chicago Theater Review: INVASION! (Silk Road Rising)

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by Lawrence Bommer on August 4, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


Supple, swift and slippery, this 80-minute, four-character satire by Jonas Hassen Khemiri (translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles) skewers Islamophobia and its many mutations. Its trick is to center our self-terrorism on an exotic name borrowed from an old play. Meaning everything and nothing, the fake persona “Abulkasem” takes on as many protean forms as Woody Allen’s elusive but ubiquitous Zelig.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of “Invasion!” at Silk Road Rising in Chicago.Constantly morphing as it shifts shapes with the interconnected characters, this chameleon-like Abulkasem—the man who wasn’t there—becomes for teenagers an adjective or noun for “beyond the pale” or “pushing the limits.” For a nephew, it’s his eccentric uncle from Lebanon who embarrasses the family with various awkward solecisms. For a pick-up artist, it’s an imaginary identity that gives him false confidence. For an asylum-seeking apple picker in Wisconsin, he’s the subject of a series of inexplicable voice messages that drive him bonkers. To a T.V. talk show that delights in scaring its audience, Abulkasem is a notorious terrorist who could be anywhere in any guise at any time. But, courting local paranoia, a stereotypical Abulkasem seems especially present in Chicago (or perhaps each production fits the city to its locale). Along the jumpy way, Khemiri also takes aim at a white seminary group that regales an Arab-American student with idiotic questions: A harmless illegal immigrant finds his Arabic mistranslated into an anti-Semitic diatribe.

Even in a short show we get the satire’s thrust and targets early and often. Only the ending seems equivocal: A cryptic Southern-style fantasy entertained by the author’s Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of “Invasion!” at Silk Road Rising in turns into a horrible tale of one man scorching his fingers to become untraceable.

As malleable as the material, Ana Barhow’s subversive staging for Silk Road Rising keeps it surreal—and toxically familiar. The cast—Kamal Hans, Amira Sabbagh, Glenn Stanton, and Omer Abbas Salem (a late replacement and perfectly at home)—inhabit their careful caricatures with heart, charm and zest. The twin aims to proselytize and to please are not contradictory.

But, despite its incendiary exclamation point, Invasion! suggests more than it shows: Its whole isn’t greater than its parts, something a strong show just can’t Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of “Invasion!” at Silk Road Rising in Chicago.afford. After an hour or so, its coy slams and hit-and-run ridicule wear thin.

Yes, spurred by Fox News xenophobia and the myth of American exceptionalism, we project inchoate and ignorant fears onto supposedly threatening strangers. And, yes, some Americans would racially profile the universe if they could. But for all its worthy anger, Invasion! could tell us more that we don’t know rather than dwell on how American alarmism comes with the territory.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of “Invasion!” at Silk Road Rising in Chicago.

Silk Road Rising in Chicago
scheduled to end on September 1, 2013

EXTENDED through September 15, 2013
for tickets call 312-857-1234, ext. 201 or visit

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