Imagine. Enlightenment and education in American have done their work. For 20 years rape has been unknown—gone, like polio. Out of the blue, a victim shows up battered in an emergency room.
Such is the Utopian, #MeToo premise of the taut new play Intrusion, by Qurrat Ann Kadwani, who also plays all eight characters, none of whom is the victim. Her theme could hardly be timelier, yet Kadwani has much more to add to current conversation than an extra blast of the prevalent sound and fury. Exhaustively researched, artfully assembled, and acted to perfection, her script traces the repercussions of sexual assault across the web of society at large.
A shaken witness not of the rape but of the victim's arrival at the hospital gives a first glimpse of the troubling facts. Next, we hear from a green third-string TV reporter, looking to climb the corporate ladder, then from a burned-out assistant prosecutor, for whom the case is a poisoned chalice. A sexist day trader hooked on virtual S&M clings to Master of the Universe attitudes that are supposedly long extinct. Punctuating the knowing reflections of academics and politicians, the piping voice of a third-grader—"I'm an excellent public speaker"—sums up the ethics of a more equitable society with admirable clarity. By the end of the show, the narrator of the opening monologue is back to enlist her audience (the imaginary demonstrators in the play as well as the spectators in the house) in working for a better world. Better in that it does not simply turn bad, old power paradigms upside-down but actually levels the playing field.
Yes, Kadwani has an agenda. No, she does not claim to have all the answers. But her characters—often armed with horrifying statistics, pointedly deployed—raise questions that continue to resonate long after one leaves the theater. And lest it be thought Intrusion is at heart right-minded agitprop, let me mention Kadwani's purposeful dramatic ambiguities. Has sexual violence really ceased to occur in the world of her parable, as her characters tell us? Or has it reverted to taboo, unacknowledged, unreported? Members of the jury may disagree. And while I'm guessing that the physical production—some papers, a briefcase, a man's sports coat, some ties, a pair of rubber gloves, a scrubbing brush—fits neatly into Kadwani's carry-on luggage, she manages to wrest potent theatrical metaphor from 2.74 ounces of stacked, wooden Jenga blocks.
Kadwani's first solo show, They Call Me Q, has been presented over 200 times in 35 states, winning numerous prizes. The premiere of Intrusion, at the Maui Fringe Theatre Festival this weekend, took top honor for best performer: apt recognition for Kadwani's disciplined, empathetic, multifaceted, and impassioned talent.