Theater review: 'No Word in Guyanese for Me' at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre
Wendy Graf’s heartfelt and moving “No Word in Guyanese for Me, ” now in its world premiere at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre, traces the coming-of-age of Hanna, a Guyanese lesbian whose Muslim faith is at painful odds with her emerging sexual identity.
The title refers to the fact that the Guyanese language has no word for female homosexuals. Many of Graf’s previous plays (“Leipzig,” “The Book of Esther”) have had Jewish themes. “No Word” examines fundamentalist Islamic culture from such an intensely personal perspective, it’s hard to believe it’s not autobiographical.
Anna Khaja, no stranger to performing in a solo format, won an Ovation Award for her performance in “Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto,” which she also wrote. In “No Word,” Khaja plays the central character of Hanna, first seen as a 5-year-old child in her native Guyana. After her mother is killed in a fire, Hanna is sent to live with a new family by her widowed father.
When her adoptive father moves the family to Queens, N.Y., Hanna is mocked for wearing the hijab –- the headscarf mandated for Muslim women. Hanna’s feelings of being an outsider grow along with her sexual longings for her own gender.
Khaja delivers a protean performance that captures Hanna’s development from boisterous tomboy to unwilling teenage bride to openly lesbian adult. Khaja portrays several other roles as well, most notably Hanna’s adoptive mother, whose affection for Hanna extends only as far as Hanna’s submissiveness. Under the guidance of director Anita Khanzadian,Khaja often brings tears to our eyes. But as the child Hanna, she sometimes stumbles over the fine line into cutesiness.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“No Word in Guyanese for Me,” Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 W. Riverside Drive, Suite D, Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 12. $15. (800) 838-3006. www.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Photo: Anna Khaja. Credit: Carla Barnett