'Guyanese' story and actor¿s portrayal are engaging

Cultural standards, religious mores and sexuality collide head on in the thought-provoking “No Word In Guyanese For Me” playing at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Burbank.

Playwright Wendy Graf’s world-premiere script is a remarkably concise story concerning a young Muslim girl named Hanna living in the former Dutch and British colony of Guyana.

A seemingly blissful life on the northern coast of South America is uprooted by familial tragedy and Hanna, now the pseudo-adopted daughter of a religious imam and his wife, finds herself living in the New York suburb of Queens.

Childhood soon gives way to adolescence and it’s clear that Hanna is struggling with a suppressed realization as to her sexual identity.

An arranged Islamic wedding is the catalyst that forces Hanna to confront her internal struggle and eventually acknowledge her preference for female companionship.

Faced with bitter repercussions from her family, her desire to retain her spiritual roots and find happiness becomeher life’s focus.

Graf’s script covers a lot of ground both in terms of time and plot points while successfully engaging but never overwhelming the audience with minutiae.

None of which would mean a whit were it not for the winning performance of actress Anna Khaja who portrays not only Hanna but every other character in this 90-minute, solo-actor production.

Khaja does a spectacular job of presenting each stage of Hanna’s life and development with total commitment.

Whether we are watching a 5-year-old skipping through the Guyanese forest or a terrified teenage bride forced to consummate a clearly loveless marriage, Khaja’s work is masterful.

Clearly, Khaja and director Anita Khanzadian have a wonderful working relationship as the transitions between scenes and characters are fashioned perfectly.

Perhaps one of Khaja’s strongest assets is her charming ability to imbue the subtlest of facial expressions or gestures with so much meaning.

Equally commendable is her ingenious facility with dialects, particularly with Hanna’s accent giving way to an Americanized sound as she matures.

Ultimately, Khaja’s skill in personalizing each character produces the effect that she is, in fact, recreating autobiographical moments from her own life.

And yet, perhaps the greatest kudos owed here to playwright, director and actor alike stems from their making a completely fictitious story seem absolutely true.

No doubt this illusion is aided by the intimate nature of the Sidewalk Studio Theatre itself.

With only three rows of seating, it serves as the perfect venue for single-actor works such as this.

And aided by the simple, yet effective, work of scenic designer Davis Campbell and Matthew Richter’s lighting and sound, this poignant work fills every nook and cranny of the playing space.

Dink O’Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.



What: “No Word in Guyanese for Me” by Wendy Graf

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, extended through June 25

Where: Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, #D, Burbank

Tickets: $15

Contact: (800) 838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/155636

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