AOH’s “INVASION!” Will Make You Laugh Until It Hurts

INVASION! at Ancram Opera House is a head-spinning lark about ethnic identity that will have you sifting its meaning long after you’ve laughed your face off.

The play opens with an arch, declamatory scene which we learn is from a play, Almquist’s Signora Luna, and describes a character named Abulkasem. The first invasion of the evening occurs very quickly as this performance is upended and we follow Abulkasem for the rest of the dizzying evening.

Ahmad Maher and Abuzar Farrukh play two teenage disruptors when Ahmad confesses that his uncle in Lebanon is named Abulkasem. His uncle (played by Ali Andre Ali who was the melodramatic actor in the opening) visits America every Christmas under his stage name Lance in hopes of furthering his dance career. The light-hearted, joyful visits are marred by a hateful act, but the boys grab onto the name Abulkasem and turn it into a touchstone at their school to pour all their inchoate feelings into. The play works in this subversive manner as well, softening you up with laughs then revealing the ugliness behind xenophobia.

The 2011 play is by Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles and is directed by Ancram co-founder Jeffrey Mousseau. We are lucky to have this satirical, deeply funny, disturbing puzzle of a play making its regional premiere.

After the boy’s scene, Abulkasem’s name is used as a pick-up artist, an international avant-garde director, an immigrant apple-picker, a terrorist. We follow the name as it is passed around, literally with a panel discussion talk show among the cast of four. Sophie Zmorrod Laruelle is the fourth and has great turns as a grad student locked out of her apartment and most chillingly and disturbingly funny as a translator who deliberately paints the most polar opposite portrait of what she’s hearing.

Abuzar Farrukh, Ahmad Maher/Vanessa Baer

The set by Sarah Edkins keeps you on edge with its opposing ramps and sliding angled panels and curtains. There are great assists by lighting designer Jess Elliot, Rashida Nelson and Brendan F. Doyle leading us into this topsy-turvy world where sometimes the funniest moments open up into real horror.

Ahmad Maher does a superb job with the ghost story that caps the evening. It is an unforgettable, edge of your seat, breathtaking tale. Hang on.

Jeffrey Mousseau keeps the laughs and outrage flowing for INVASION!’s fleet running time but leaves you with plenty to discuss after. A pretty great trick to make a pointed, political story of prejudice so damned entertaining.

Through 8/21 @ Ancram Opera House


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