Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Fiddler on the Roof
The bilingual play, which runs almost three hours, takes a slow, deep dive into the Bengali culture of Kolkata, India, as American-born Choton (Abrar Haque) visits his relatives accompanied by his Black American partner, Raheem (Jakeem Dante Powell). The speech flows easily between English and Bangla, with projected translations when necessary.
Choton has come to research queer culture in Kolkata, particularly through the lens of "public obscenity" laws enacted during British rule, with Raheem filming his interviews with local activists. They are staying with Choton's aunt and uncle, Pishimoni (Gargi Mukherjee) and Pishe (Debashis Roy Chowdhury), along with family retainer Jitesh (Golam Sarwar Harun) in an elaborate house (designed by Peiyi Wong) filled with fascinating details and dominated by a stern portrait photograph of Pishimoni's late father, a college principal.
The playwright digs down methodically, putting together the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. Rather than major revelations, the discoveries tend to appear in passing as Choton tries to organize a picture from the fragments he can unearth.
Elements of the past, such as the discovery of undeveloped film in the grandfather's old camera, overlap with Pishe's fascination with online gaming and his recounting of a cinematic dream to Choton, and how online influencers and hip-hop culture are melding with Bengali tradition. Each character adds to the mosaic: outspoken interviewees Shou (Tashnuva Anan) and especially Sebanti (NaFis) stand out in their vivid costumes (by Enver Chakartash), and Harun reveals an ethereal singing voice.
The overall effect is mesmerizing as one piece of the past builds on another. While Haque and Powell are the anchors of the production, the entire cast works together elegantly as a seamless unit.
Public Obscenities runs through December 23, 2023, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-393-3939 or visit www.woollymammoth.net.
Written and directed by Shayok Misha Chowdhury