Discussing rape is not easy in any context. It has scarred our collective humanity; in many societies it is still a taboo subject; it is almost too offensive to broach. Intrusion, a one-woman show written and performed by writer/actor/activist Qurrat Ann Kadwani and directed by Constance Hester, finds a way.
To enable this exploration, Intrusion is set 20 years in the future, distancing itself from the pain. This imagined future is one where rape and sexual assault has been eradicated—the imagined society of the future is a clean and safe place.
However, suddenly and unexpectedly, an episode of rape rears its ugly head, serving as a catalyst for Kadwani to dissect the cause and effect of rape and sexual violence and map out its injurious history with an intellectual precision.
Kadwani portrays eight highly purposeful characters, representing the perspectives of the media, the law, academia, science, politics, business, and the people—young (a 20-year-old college student) and younger (an 8-year-old schoolboy). Many of the characters are simple caricatures, giving voice to the writer’s thoroughly researched material, and giving more than enough content to address the issues. While their monologues show an intelligent mind at work, a more theatrical production might elect to be less obvious.
In the psychologist’s first lines, the writer’s quandary about whether 20 years is far enough in the future to set her play is transparent. Indeed, while delivering her monologue, she mimes spraying and wiping down wall-to-wall windows. Regardless of whether or not this metaphorical business was intentional, and even though on one level it is pleasing, audiences want and deserve more.
I know that twenty years is not such a long time for a people to …change completely…. But it is not an insignificant amount of time either. Many say that all of the cells in our bodies are replaced every seven years. The truth is, they are being replaced constantly, at different rates. But it is a nice, solid-feeling idea to think about, isn’t it? In seven years, you’ll have completely new cells than the ones you have today. A totally different person, but the same. In twenty years, we’ve gone through almost three of those transitions...With that line of thinking, of course, we could eradicate rape in such little time. But I’m not that kind of doctor, so don’t quote me on that. It’s just a thought.
The professor’s comments toward the end of this one-hour performance are a clear justification of Kadwani’s decision to use theater as a vehicle for her project:
If I’ve learned anything teaching theater all these years, it’s that most action doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be good enough. Well, …. my Ph.D. thesis was about how sexual violence against women is less about being male than it is about not being female and how that is connected to gender and inequality through the lens of the arts. In my political theater class…, we discuss how theater amplified social change throughout the centuries—in Europe, Africa, Asia and, of course, America.
It does beg the question whether theater is the right vehicle for this piece, because what the production lacks is theatricality. The biggest missed opportunity for theatricality was the Jenga—a game involving a wooden tower that the narrator plays. As she removes random pieces from the middle and places them on top, the tower becomes more and more unstable. But while the idea is clever, playing a regular-sized Jenga game on stage is hardly visible. As a theatrical device to offer a breather between scenes and to symbolize the precarious nature of the world, a game of Giant Jenga would not be missed and would give the actor a large piece of business.
As a performer, Kadwani is very watchable. Her talent is evident in her quick-change accents and in her ability to inject the necessary inflections to meet the demands of her own dense and weighty script. Notable and enjoyable portrayals were the School Kid addressing his school assembly, and the ego-bound Day Trader in a bar.
For a production that promotes itself as both sci-fi and futuristic, Intrusion is neither. Apart from the concept of rape being eradicated, there is nothing in the show to indicate a futuristic society. Nor are there sci-fi elements to the production. Both the stage design and the lighting miss their chance to make a visual impact and, ultimately, the promise is unfulfilled.
Performances of Intrusion run through Oct. 26 at St. Luke’s Theater (308 West 46th St.) on a sporadic schedule. For tickets and more information, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Intrusion.