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Theater review by Regina Robbins
Hatef**k is more complex than its provocative title suggests. Rehana Lew Mirza’s play begins at a party, where college professor Layla (Kavi Ladnier) approaches bestselling novelist Imran (Sendhil Ramamurthy) to scold him for trading in Muslim stereotypes in his work: He has a responsibility, she argues, to create a more nuanced portrait of their shared cultural and religious heritage. The cocky Imran is unrepentant, insisting that he's an individual first and a member of the "brown" community second. This so infuriates Layla that she…offers to screw him until he begs for mercy.
Thus begins an affair in which religious belief, cultural identity and personal ambition combine to draw this passionate couple together even while threatening to pull them apart. The two actors trade barbs and come-ons at a breakneck pace, with director Adrienne Campbell-Holt taking a cue from classic Hollywood screwball comedy—though we never saw as much of Cary Grant’s unclothed body as we do of Ramamurthy’s well-trained physique. Layla and Imran’s hookup-turned-romance is fun to watch. (When was the last time you saw two people argue about the Quran in their underwear?) But ultimately, Hatef**k is another example of a genre that has become too familiar: The “play about art,” in which well-educated people debate the role and responsibility of the artist in society. Granted, it’s an important debate, especially when the artist is a member of an often-stigmatized group. But one can’t help feeling that, like Imran and Layla, the play is using that issue to avoid some deeper and messier questions.
WP Theater (Off Broadway). By Rehana Lew Mirza. Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt. With Kavi Ladnier, Sendhil Ramamurthy. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.