Theater review by Diane Snyder
Hammaad Chaudry makes an audacious if erratic professional debut with An Ordinary Muslim. Born in Scotland but currently based in New York City, the playwright has spoken of his admiration for Arthur Miller, whose influence is reflected in the family struggles at the core of this ambitious drama. But the play comes most excitingly to life when it probes the mental torment of being Muslim in an increasingly hostile Western culture.
Sanjit De Silva exudes repressed rage as Azeem Bhatti, a London bank worker who is trying to get promoted to manager of his branch. Azeem is not unlike the angry young men of mid-20th-century British drama: He is uncompromising in his demand for respect from society, and he deals with his alienation by alienating others. That his Pakistani-immigrant father (Ranjit Chowdhry) worked multiple jobs without advancement weighs on him, as does the domestic abuse he witnessed growing up. He’s secular on the surface, and even rails against his wife, Saima (Purva Bedi), who has started wearing a hijab to work: “In this country, a good Muslim is an invisible Muslim,” he says, with a mix of sarcasm and bitterness.
“When I see a Muslim go after you fuckers…I get it,” Azeem tells a well-meaning white liberal friend (Andrew Hovelson). At such moments, An Ordinary Muslim calls to mind Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Disgraced. But whereas that play was taut and tightly focused, Chaudry and director Jo Bonney can’t sustain this one’s central family tension. Still, Azeem’s anguish is palpable whenever De Silva is front and center. “This country is it for me,” the character says at one point, seemingly already resigned to the fact that there’s no place he feels at home.
New York Theatre Workshop (Off Broadway). By Hammaad Chaudry. Directed by Jo Bonney. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.