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One Woman, Thirteen Characters
Becoming Yourself by Being Someone Else





by Tenzin Norzin 

March 2017

In They Call Me Q, Qurrat Ann Kadwani says while playing herself, "I joined the speech and debate team so I could assume any character." Her experience on the team must have been fruitful as, over the course of this hour-long one-woman play, she assumes not just one but thirteen distinct characters, ranging from her mother to a playground bully.

A small group of community members, Stony Brook faculty, and students, numbering no more than twenty-five, attended the performance, which was held at the Wang Asian/American Center Theatre on Friday, March 24. In a space that can seat 239, the play as well as the question-and-answer session that followed felt more intimate than it might have with a larger audience.

Loosely based on Ms. Kadwani's life, the story portrayed is itself a very personal one and is centered around the question of identity: of what it means to grow up Indian American. It follows Q's birth in India to her family's move to America and her subsequent adolescence in the Bronx, where she grappled with instances of racism and with wanting to be like her Puerto Rican classmates. Playing her teenage self, Ms. Kadwani says, "I wanted to be loud and unapologetic. I wanted to be someone else."

The changes between characters, while noticeable enough that the audience can follow along, still happen naturally, often with just a small shift in posture or in voice. For example, Ms. Kadwani slips between the characters of Q and Raya, Q's charismatic dancer friend, with each passing of the cigarette between them. The change between Q and Catherine the playground bully, the first in the play, occurs with a little more aplomb - it is accompanied by a few seconds of music, an adjustment in lighting, and a tweak of clothing.

But the transitions and the interactions between the titular character, Q, and the character of Q's mother provide a few of the most interesting scenes in the play.

The first conversations between the two riff off the standard jokes about immigrant parents' expectations of their children's grades and marriages, but soon transition into a more serious, albeit still comical, study of character towards the second half of the play.

Speaking in the character's accented tones, Ms. Kadwani, playing her own mother, walks Q step-by-step over the phone through the process of making lentil soup. In this perceptive yet touching portrayal of a mother who is alternatingly exasperated and amused by her daughter's silly questions, Ms. Kadwani's acting capabilities shine.

At the end of the play, the audience finally learns that Q stands for Qurrat, a sign that Ms. Kadwani has learned to embrace the two aspects of her identity and their differences, which at first seemed to divide her. But as Ms. Kadwani noted during the question-and-answer session, "We are all more similar than we are different."



Images by Patrick Yang. A complete gallery of Patrick's photos of Ms. Kadwani in all of her characters is at this AA E-Zine Facebook page link.





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