In the world of highly charged rhetoric, the word terrorist has taken on many different connotations.
There is a large societal debate on what should be labeled a “terrorist” act. And often these lines are drawn amongst right and left wing ideologies.
Evren Odcikin knows how he feels about that word terrorist. And the new play he has directed for San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions, entitled “Autobiography of a Terrorist,” is a comedy. That is something Odcikin realized when he first heard the blatantly absurd title.
“This is true for most Middle Eastern-Americans that when we announced the title, it’s immediately known that it’s a comedy,” said Odcikin. “It’s the silliest title ever, but our managing director told me that we have to tell people it’s a comedy.”
That does not take away from the deep feelings that Odcikin has about the labels that are used in completely xenophobic contexts.
“When I hear the word terrorist, a deeply politicized word, there is somebody trying to create terror in hearts of people,” said Odcikin. “It’s a label that has been reserved for a lot of brown people, and whenever I hear the term, my antenna goes up.
“Someone is trying to stoke fear, using that label for their own political gain. The play points to the absurdity in which we bend ourselves in using the right word.”
The play, written by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, has both satirical and absurdist roots. In the play within a play, the character of Said has penned a play about growing up Iranian and Jewish-American during the Iran hostage crisis. And through the play, he explores different times in his life and the racist things he’s had to deal with, feeling the need to take responsibility for aspects of his culture in which he had limited knowledge and no control. The play within a play goes downhill fast, with both poignant and hilarious results, exploring the complicated dynamic for those who have connections to two countries, yet in many people’s eyes are not connected to one.
For the 36-year-old Odcikin, who is a first-generation Turkish-American, the play has plenty that he can relate to, both on a human and identity level.
“It sort of shows the small and large ways that we are ridiculous when we come to these identity questions,” said Odcikin. “Although it is funny, it creates a great environment and a sense of danger. Around Said, microagressions become macroagressions, and they are funny until they’re not. It feels very true to my experience.”
The play, like many plays being produced within this new presidential administration, may be considered timely. But the fact is the play was written in 2005, and is more focused on the aforementioned hostage crisis and 9/11. And both Odcikin and Sayrafiezadeh, who has worked on the Golden Thread production as well, made a conscious choice not to have the current president’s name on the minds of the audience.
“We want this play to live on and continue to be produced and sadly, this play will be relevant for at least 10 more years,” said Odcikin. “We did not want the word ‘Trump’ anywhere near our play.”
While the play is very personal to both Odcikin and Golden Thread, a company that has been producing work from and about the Middle East for 20 years, it is not the politics of any play that moves or inspires Odcikin. Rather, it is that search for humanity and relatable experiences that are at the heart of any work he chooses, and this play is no exception.
“Although a great deal of my work is political, it’s never the specific reason I do a play,” said Odcikin. “What gets me excited is character and story. I love complicated, difficult and flawed characters. Now there are timely conversations around political issues, and just being Middle Eastern and growing up in Turkey, it’s no surprise naturally that it would be included in my plays.
“Having said that, it’s not why I choose any play. I choose to fall in love with a character.”
While the hope is that audiences share plenty of laughs through the show, there are certain conversations that can and should be gleaned from the piece.
“What we’re interested in is fighting against this simplified conversation about identity,” said Odcikin. “As artists, we need to continue to fight for our humanity and to be seen as the complicated, flawed human beings that we are.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Golden Thread Productions presents “Autobiography of a Terrorist”
Written by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
Directed by Evren Odcikin
Potrero Stage, 1695 18th St., S.F.
Through May 7th
Tickets range from $15 – $36
call (415) 626-4061 or visit www.goldenthread.org