Acha Bacha: a killer queen saves the day - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto
Acha Bacha: a killer queen saves the day 08 February 2018
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Michael Cooper
Coming out happens in varying degrees and stages. Acha Bacha looks at the process as it specifically pertains to the South Asian community, first generation immigrants and, by being precise, universally. Zaya and Salim are a couple who we are introduced to mid-blowjob. Having been together for four years (we learn they met cute at a Gay Muslim support group) they are about to be separated for the first time while Salim visits his mother in Dubai. The tensions in their relationship mainly revolve around Zaya's tentative moves out the closet but Salim turns out to have secrets of his own.
Zaya's mother has a fall and is hospitalized and Zaya begins to unravel. The scenes between Zaya and his mother - the hilarious and imperious Ellora Patnaik who turns a wheelchair into a throne - are comedic gold. Everyone has had a conflict, or two or more, with a mother who knows all, whether gayness is at the root of it or not. Their dialogue moves seamlessly between English and Urdu but the performers' expressiveness and the familiarity of the situation keeps their intentions and one-liners - Mississauga is a frequent victim - crystal clear.
Unfortunately the timeline is not as coherent. Zaya begins having hallucinations and enters fugue states resulting in memory lapses. There is more trauma in Zaya's past - involving, possibly, sex abuse by an Iman, Maulana, and, possibly, sex with the Iman's nephew, Mubeen - and his psyche appears to fracture as he attempts to solve it. Qaism Khan (Hamlet) as Zaya has to start at a fever pitch and then ascend/descend from there, all the while offering exposition and cues as to where we are and why we might be there. Khan gives a credible performance and particularly excels at Acha Bacha's trickiest and most daring theme: all the characters are complicit, even Zay himself and the mother. Where do abuse of power and seduction by the abused intersect?
Khan also looks great with his shirt off and the dance between him and Maulana (Omar Alex Khan) is an intricate one as the desires keep shifting and Zaya appears almost disappointed that it all leads to only a Louis CK moment. Or does it? While the ambiguity works in that relationship's context, Zaya's history, and present, with Mubeen is ambiguous to the point of opaqueness. Shelly Antony (Little Pretty and the Exceptional, Scarberia) as Mubeen seems to be deep in a closet, betrayed only by a Michael Jackson-esque tendency to cup his crotch, but to also have memories of bullying Zaya into sex. Or did Zaya want it? Or did it even happen?
It is here that Acha Bacha falls apart. While the time frames are signalled by sound and light cues, they are not clearly defined and frequently the audience is unsure of where they are and what is real. There is a pervasive inconsistency, some props are all too real, some are mimed, and while the chair metaphor works beautifully, some of the scene changes are intrusive. While Bilal Baig's script is strong in individual scenes and director Brendan Healy helps the actors achieve emotive performances, the overall drive and power is lost and leads to a limp climax.
Matt Nethersole (James and the Giant Peach) has the showiest and sexiest role as Salim. A towering gender warrior, he is Zaya's salvation and destruction. And every time he is on stage, he commands attention in that magical erotic way that only a flamboyant queen with a quip, barely concealed insecurities, and a killer bod can. Salim and Zaya's mother are a duelling match made in theatrical heaven, and to watch two actors mining personal experience and considerable style to create fireworks, makes Acha Bacha a memorable experience.
Acha Bacha continues until Sun, Feb 18 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave. passemuraille.ca