By Hayley Marks
Special to the Chronicle
She’s inspirational. She’s evocative. And she has a unique talent quite unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. It’s remarkable when an accomplished actress can portray characters and situations familiar to her own life, and this is exactly what Qurrat Ann Kadwani does in her self-reflective, award winning one-woman play They Call Me Q.
The autobiographical show was performed at Hofstra on Oct. 23. Kadwani’s play showcased a personification of herself, taking various aspects of her life and telling an emotional story about finding herself and realizing her personal identity. Through playing a variety of characters—many of whom are based on people she knew in her own life—Kadwani captured the hearts of all who attended this rare theatrical event.
The way in which Q switched characters was original in itself, through using warm and cool lighting to differentiate between roles. When Q played herself, the lighting was orange and sharp, while all other characters had a softer, cooler lighting to define them. The show’s visual appeal definitely helped to make it spectacular.
Kadwani’s 60-minute show began with her reciting a monologue about a rather sensitive topic to her: her name. “The reason they call [her] ‘q’ is because Qurrat is difficult to pronounce.” Raised in the Bronx but originating from Mumbai, Kadwani addresses that it was sometimes very hard to identify herself in her social settings.
Kadwani often contrasted her life to the laid-back ease of the Hispanic teens living in the chic city scene. They “brushed off their problems.” Kadwani yearned to be like them, rather than living by the rules in her own conservative household.
Gender roles were a recurring theme in They Call Me Q, seen especially in Kadwani’s characterization of her mother. Kadwani portrayed her mother as a strict and traditional Indian woman, humorously using a thick Indian accent to mimic her.
The mother was always talking to her about being a “good girl” meaning getting marry to a “good man.” Kadwani’s lead character (Q) also had to study hard in school to meet her parents’ traditionalist values. Q found herself conflicted by this mindset; she wasn’t doing things for herself and she constantly wished she had the fun and fancy-free lifestyles of her Hispanic neighbors and classmates. It was nearly impossible to accept herself for who she was.
That is, until Q became involved in her high school debate team, wherein a newfound love for acting and drama emerged. This was where Q was most confident in herself—when she could be her true self, regardless of what her parents wanted or what she thought would make her happy.
Q’s happiest moment arose when she attended a nightclub in the city with her partner on the debate team. She finally let loose and danced, symbolizing her freedom. And then, everything stopped.
In the following sequence in which the lights dimmed and Q received a phone call, saying that her friend from the debate team had committed suicide. This turn of events changed the show dramatically; as an audience member, I was nearly brought to tears by the way she switched characters so easily and expressed shock and grief so effortlessly.
Q’s quest for direction in her life made this story powerful. By forming a bridge between two worlds—Urban-American and traditional Indian—Q was able to entice the audience and teach us that experiences can create our own mold; that we form our own destinies by connecting our surroundings with our cultural upbringings.
Even though I am not Indian, nor a child of the Bronx, I connected with Q’s characters: they showed that even though cultures may clash, we’re all unified as people, as a species. Q delivered these themes outstandingly through her piece. It was certainly a show, and cultural experience, I’ll never forget.