Shaheed—The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto

Culture Project , Downtown Sunday April 21 2013 15:00
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Photograph: Carol Rosegg
Photograph: Carol Rosegg
Photograph: Carol Rosegg
Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Theater review by Raven Snook. Culture Project (see Off Broadway). Written and performed by Anna Khaja. Dir. Heather de Michele. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

Martyr, mother, politician, pawn, hero, heretic. Late Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was wildly different things to different people. Pakistani-American writer-performer Anna Khaja explores her complicated life and legacy, as well as her homeland’s complex history, through a series of meticulously crafted, interconnected monologues set on the eve of Bhutto’s 2007 assassination.

Some of the characters Khaja portrays are famous, such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But she fares best when playing commoners, like an impoverished Pakistani cabdriver who believes Bhutto can bring democracy to his beloved country, or his Muslim extremist teen daughter, who calls for her death. Khaja is particularly affecting as Quasim, a Boston University professor and former Bhutto political ally, who reluctantly reveals how he was forced to betray her and their cause.

Khaja, best known from her stint as a vengeful Iraqi ghost on True Blood last season, is a wonder, effortlessly slipping in and out of different personalities, genders, costumes and viewpoints. (Since this solo piece has been knocking around various fringe festivals since 2010, the actor has certainly had time to get comfortable with her quick character changes.) Khaja only stumbles when playing Bhutto herself. There was no way the stateswoman could measure up to everyone’s expectations during her lifetime. In death she remains inscrutable, more powerful as a fantasy than as flesh and blood.—Raven Snook

Venue name: Culture Project
Address: 45 Bleecker St
New York

Cross street: between Bowery and Lafayette St
Transport: Subway: B, D, F, M to Broadway–Lafayette St; 6 to Bleecker St
Price: $45, premium $65
Event phone: 866-811-4111