The Silk Road Institute’s
entry into theatre
First offering is Wajahat Ali’s The Domestic Crusaders
By Byron Toben
The Silk Road Institute of Canada was founded in 2013 by its Board Chair, Mohamed Shaheen, to give voice to Canada’s Muslim community through books, readings, poetry and visual arts. It has now expanded into theatre, selecting as its first piece, The Domestic Crusaders, a 2005 work by then California student Wajahat Ali.
It appeared off Broadway in 2009 and has since been seen in various major US cities, reaching Mississauga, Canada in 2010.
The plot centres around the birthday party of Ghafur (played by Vi Ji) the youngest son of a Pakistani-American family.
His older brother, Sallahudin (Zeshaun Saleem) and rebellious sister Fatima (Amanda Silveira) share lodgings with their parents, mother Khulsoom (Christine Rodriguez) and father Salman (Danny Blanco-Hall).
Also residing with the family is Selman’s father Hakim (Matthew Kabwe).
The family discusses and argues many subjects familiar to many other immigrant groups… generational gaps, societal discrimination, international developments, religious conflicts and the like.
… a worthwhile exercise for an entree into regular theatre production. Looking forward to future shows.
As director Deborah Forde explained, this first Muslim theatre project was aided in many small ways by the Black Theatre Workshop, Teesri Duniya, Infinitheatre and others.
Many local theatres put the art of the theatre first, whereas here the message of world intrusions, such as the 9-11 mass murders affecting the personal level of normal individuals, is the main focus.
As a Shavian, this combination should have been up my alley. In one of Shaw’s 62 plays, I forget which, a wife admonishes her husband just before their dinner party with invited guests, to be on his best behaviour and not to discuss religion, politics or sex, to which he replies, “But my dear, they are the only subjects worth talking about”.
And yet, despite the good idea, spirited direction and enthusiastic acting, I found something lacking in the well-intentioned script. It smacked too obviously of a checklist of subjects to be raised as in a lecture. A little Shavian contrasting humour would have been welcome as in Zarqa Nawaz’s 2007-2012 TV series, Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Anyway, a worthwhile exercise for an entree into regular theatre production. Looking forward to future shows.
The Domestic Crusaders continues at Espace Knox until October 6.
514 987-1774 or silkroadinstitute.ca
Feature image: Christine Rodriguez and Danny Blanco-Hall – courtesy of Silk Road Theatre
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Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.