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A vibrant culture-clash drama simmering with humour.

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Almost to the date one year ago the ABS visited the Theater Drachengasse to watch Ayad Akhtar’s play: “The Invisible Hand”. Last night it was “The Who and the What”.

Brilliant Pakistani-American writer Zarina (starring Saman Giraud), is focused on finishing her novel “The Who and the What” about women and Islam when she meets Eli, a young “white” convert who also is an Imam in a local mosque, convincingly played by Dave Moskin, who bridges the gulf between her modern life and her traditional heritage. But when her conservative father and sister discover her controversial manuscript, humanizing the Prophet, in Muslim eyes a blasphemy, which could provoke a violent fatal response from militants, they are all forced to confront the beliefs that define them.

The play’s dominant figure is Afzal, rendered here as a demanding but not unsympathetic figure. He’s a loving father and widower who is proud of his daughters and wants the best for them — as long as their desires dovetail neatly with his. Harmage Singh Kalirai’s superb performance brings out the character’s warmth and lively humour, so that it takes a while for us to absorb the darker aspects of his makeup.

Even in urban America, this tight-knit family has continued to observe traditional codes of behaviour. When the smiling Afzal begins to reveal the staunch beliefs that have guided him in the raising of his daughters (Saman Giraud and Sina Pirouzi), the truth about the status of women raised (even in America) according to Islamic beliefs becomes starkly clear.

“She has more power over you than she really wants,” Afzal says to Eli, accusing him of failing to treat his wife as a Muslim husband should. “She can’t help it.” And then, in a line that Harmage Singh Kalirai delivers with a chilling casualness, he adds, “And she won’t be happy until you break her, son. She needs you to take it on, man.”

The intimacy of the theatre, a bar with some 70 seats and a stage, made this play and the immediacy of the actor’s performance an experience I will never forget. Our President Dr Kurt Tiroch’s address after the show was brief. What followed was an in-depth and indeed captivating discussion with the actors and the Director Joanna Godwin-Seidl on stage and the audience, moderated by Dr Tiroch.

As always, the catering, courtesy of “Café Ministerium”, was very generous both in food and sparkling wine and attentively served throughout. Like last year, the party went on way past midnight.

What a shame if for one reason or another you haven’t been there last night because you missed a truly enjoyable evening! Believe me!

Wolfgang Geissler