Company One puts ‘Hindu Gods’ in a good place
“Did you know that Indians invented the concept of non-linear time? Everything is now. Everything is here.” That’s just one of the many things you can learn about India in Aditi Brennan Kapil’s “The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy,” which Company One Theatre is presenting at the Boston Center for the Arts. The gods in question are the trinity of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. In Kapil’s three plays they’re displaced to America and turn into women — or at least, 2 1/2 of them do. And though they can’t stop time, they do make it run enjoyably.
Kapil herself knows all about displaced. Her father was born in Punjab, in the north of India; he moved to Delhi to become a poet, and then to Communist Bulgaria, where he met her mother. Kapil was born in Sofia, but then the family moved to Stockholm, and eventually she came to the United States to attend college in Minnesota. She still lives there.
Company One knows something about Kapil: It staged her “Love Person” back in 2012. Now it’s just the second troupe to offer the complete “Displaced Hindu Gods.” Each play runs between 90 and 100 minutes, with no intermission; each is self-contained, so it doesn’t matter in what order you see them. Company One is presenting “Brahman/i: “A One Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show” in the Plaza Black Box and “The Chronicles of Kalki” and “Shiv” in the Plaza Theatre; M. Bevin O’Gara (who was at the helm for “Love Person”) directs the first two and Summer L. Williams the third. (You can see all three plays in one day on weekends, starting at 3 p.m.; the intervals don’t allow for much of a dinner break, but Company One is selling samosas in the lobby.)
There are common threads. Shiv sails the cosmic ocean on a mattress; Kalki arrives in a downpour of rain and takes it with her when she leaves. Shiv and her father, Bapu, pretend they’re on the starship “Enterprise” and fish for constellations; Kalki’s friend has a bedroom ceiling that’s papered with glow-in-the-dark stars. Shiv and her friend Gerard drink bourbon from cups, Bapu and Brahman/i’s auntie pour it into Coca-Cola cans.
The jewel in the trilogy’s crown is “The Chronicles of Kalki,” Kalki being the name of Vishnu’s yet-to-come 10th and final avatar. Played here by Ally Dawson, she’s a superhero who seems to have stepped out of a Marvel comic (Kapil says she grew up on comic books) to save Girl 1 (Stephanie Recio) and Girl 2 (Pearl Shin) from the horrors of “the high school hate machine.” But after being in town just a week, Kalki is missing, and a Cop (Brandon Green) is asking 1 and 2 to tell him and us about her, the play unfolding in flashbacks.
Kalki is a tough — almost too tough — huntress who strips men’s skins to wear as a prize. At one point she tells Girl 2 to “give up your lips or suffer the blue kiss of oblivion.” As the sweet but alienated teens, Recio and Shin are masters of exasperated impatience with Green’s paternal but never patronizing detective; when he suggests that Kalki is their invention, they tell him, “Just because we made her up doesn’t mean she’s not real.”
The other two plays are more problematic. “Brahman/i” reimagines Brahma as “a young intersex girl dude” who tries being a man first and then a woman. Aila Peck is accomplished as she takes on British colonialism, British accents, and more high-school horrors, and Kapil gives her a plethora of hilarious one-liners, but the humor can verge on smirky, and some of the barbs aim at easy targets or miss their mark. The best moments involve Brahman/i’s bourbon-swilling auntie.
“Shiv” has the look of an autobiographical piece, in which Shiv (Payal Sharma), who’s living in a third-floor walk-up in Skokie, Ill., quarrels with her “Punjabi modernist poet” father (Michael Dwan Singh) after he leaves her mother for an American blonde. She gets a summer job as a housekeeper for a professor (Jeffrey Phillips) and starts up a relationship with his nephew (Casey Preston). Singh strikes an authentic Indian emigrant note as Bapu, but Sharma and Preston are oddly stiff and unconvincing together, and the play goes on too long.
And yet it’s hard to complain when Kapil’s fertile imagination is running riot, comic one moment, enlightening the next. All three parts of “The Displaced Hindi Gods Trilogy” are worth seeing, but if you’re seeing only one, make it “Kalki.” The title character complains that being human means being alone, but you won’t feel that way when you see Recio and Shin go off hand in hand.