Badass Theatre Company is a brand-new operation. I am going to say this once, and I am never going to say it again: I hate the name "Badass Theatre Company," it makes me think of a little kid trying to give himself his own nickname ("My friends call me Ninja Joey!"), and I hope it's shortened to BAT sooner rather than later. I'm also not including press photos from the show in this blog post, because they are legitimately awful.
And that's all the criticism I can muster, because Badass' production of Swedish playwright Johan Hassen Khemiri's Invasion! is excellent. Really exciting stuff, especially for an inaugural outing. The show's voice is fresh and funny (translator Rachel Willson-Broyles did amazing work here; it's an exceptionally natural translation), the subject matter relevant and challenging, and Badass' four-person ensemble deft and very funny in juggling multiple roles and multiple characters through a series of interlocking vignettes focused on a Zelig-like figure called "Abulkasem."
The show opens with two characters in harem-wear, moving in unison while performing a fraught, self-serious excerpt from the play Signora Luna. I'll confess to deflating a bit in opening moments—Post Five's production of Arabian Nights burned me out on chicks in harem pants for at least a season. But Invasion!'s script is smarter than I initially gave it credit for—and as an admittedly jaded audience member, there's nothing I like more than having my own expectations served back to me on a platter.
The show's interconnected scenes skip from goofy high schoolers to an awkward bar flirtation to the inadvertent terrorization of an apple picker seeking political asylum. Through it all, the name "Abulkasem" keeps popping up, as sort of scrim on which cultural perceptions and expectations of Middle Eastern men are projected.
This show couldn't work if the ensemble wasn't up to balancing humor and pathos, but they very much are. Gilberto Martin del Campo pulls triple duty as a flamboyant Lebanese man, a TV talk show moderator, and the aforementioned apple picker, switching gears remarkably quickly between three distinct, fully realized characters; Nicole Accuardi is great as a hard-working college girl exasperated by the self-important intellectuals in her study group. But it's John San Nicholas who's in the unenviable position of making or breaking this show: Much of the humor is in his hands, and so are some of key emotional beats. Nicholas more than makes it, injecting the show with relaxed, natural humor that never feels forced, and sealing the deal with a riveting closing monologue.
I'm legitimately excited to see what this company does next. Ticket prices are capped at $20, and they've implemented a system where theatergoers can throw in money to subsidize cheap tickets for low-income audience members. I frequently complain that Portland theater has both an accessibility problem (it rarely speaks to people of my generation or younger, and it's too expensive) and a diversity problem (actors of color are rarely cast in shows that aren't explicitly about race). With Invasion!, Badass Theatre addresses both of those problems and I hardly noticed, because my pet issues were dispatched in the service of a damn good show.
Invasion! runs at the Miracle Theater, 525 SE Stark, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through June 29, $20, badasstheatre.org.
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