Evren Odcikin has worked hard to make sense of the destructive rhetoric that has taken root in this year’s presidential election. As a Muslim-American born and raised in Turkey, Odcikin has processed many feelings about his religion, his ethnicity, his role as an American, and is channeling those feelings in the most important of ways.
Crowded Fire Theater in San Francisco has made it their mission to showcase voices and playwrights from women and underrepresented, marginalized communities, and is tackling issues of xenophobia in its newest production.
Odcikin, who is directing the west coast premiere of the Jonas Hassen Khemeri piece “I Call My Brothers,” is certainly frustrated at such dangerous and harmful words bandied about with no regard to the community being targeted.
“As a Muslim-American artist, the themes of the play are very personal to me,” said Odcikin. “The current environment of Islamaphobia has gotten uglier, and it makes an impact on everyday people trying to live their lives.”
“I Call My Brothers” focuses on the young man Amor and explores 24 hours in his life. The play started out as an essay published in 2010 just after a suicide bombing in Stockholm, Sweden, where Khemeri is rooted. Three years later, the play toured in Sweden, and saw its New York debut take place in 2014.
There is an explosion. People are on edge. So Amor, who had nothing to do with any of it, goes about his business as normal as possible, his mind constantly challenging his perception of what is real and what is not. He has sunglasses. He has a backpack. And he attempts to fit in.
But for a young Muslim man who has been guilted by association, there is no fitting in. Odcikin personally has felt the stares. He has felt the contempt. And unfortunately, for many in society and in the media, anything less than perfection is fodder for those who are skeptical.
“In order to get us to care about a character of color, people must be perfect,” said Odcikin, 35. “A person has to be the perfect son, the perfect husband, has to go to college. If an African-American teenager is killed by police, people start leaning into the ether that they deserved it, or it happened because they made mistakes in their lives.
“That is so dehumanizing, especially for teens. For us to care about them, they must be perfect in every possible way, and that is really, really dangerous.”
Shoresh Alaudini, who plays Amor, considers himself a purveyor of social justice, and like Odcikin, fuses his activism with his stage work. For Alaudini, who was born in Rome to an Iranian mother and Laotian father, the play gives the audience a chance to delve deeper into the psyche of Amor’s humanity.
“The play is an awesome opportunity to showcase a deeper truth not just in sound bytes, because you are in someone’s mind longer than 30 seconds,” said Alaudini, 31. “You realize he has a family, dynamics and heartbreak. “
Alaudini’s studies in college, a Bachelor of Arts in performance studies and social justice at the University of San Francisco, has helped his tackling of the piece on multiple levels. What he didn’t learn in college he has learned by just living in society.
“I don’t want to always think about how people see me in the moment, and I don’t always want to have to be anxious, or have to be in that space of being watched,” said Alaudini. “Through this process, I am rediscovering theatre and putting my insecurities out there.
“I have found the content and the subject matter the most comforting part of the story and having it be informed through psychology and blocking. I’m not playing a villain, terrorist or a suspect, or whatever blanks you are filling within your mind. Finding those tools has been difficult, but exciting.”
Despite the fact that the show certainly carries heavy themes with it, the play is intended to have plenty of comedy. Some of the most important humor takes place in a familial structure. The basis of these interactions are universal and humanizing, and for Odcikin, joyful to direct.
“One of the characters has a deeply hilarious and moving interaction with his grandmother, which leans into the complicated and sweet relationships with my own ancestors,” said Odcikin. “It helps us to look at how we find home, and who we need in moments of distress, which is really true to my life.”
That truth Odcikin speaks of is what makes the piece as a whole so organic. He has worked tirelessly to give audiences snapshots of truth through his staging, and having Khemeri’s work as a vessel has been grand, a vessel that is more than just proselytizing.
“I work on a lot of plays about underrepresented voices, and that has meant a lot of my plays deal with trauma or difficulty, with people dealing with forces larger than themselves,” said Odcikin. “I am never directing for a point or a political statement, but sharing stories of amazing human beings I want to spend time with.”
“I love every single character in the play, they are so unique and complete.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Crowded Fire Theater presents “I Call My Brothers”
Written by Jonas Hassen Khemeri
Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Directed by Evren Odcikin
Through April 23rd
The Thick House
1695 18th Street, San Francisco, CA
For tickets, call (415) 523-0034, ext. 1 or visit www.crowdedfire.org