Dear Reader, I have invited dramaturg Rebecca Hodge to be a “guest” on my blog and post her review of Amm(i)gone, which live-streamed on March 20, 2021.
It is difficult to have open, authentic conversations. Especially if it happens to be with a parent who is ideologically opposed to you. Amm(i)gone, created and performed by Adil Mansoor, is one of those conversations, between the queer artist and his highly religious Muslim mother.
The production, presented by the Theatre Offensive, defies easy genre identification. Amm(i)gone is simultaneously documentary, monologue, education, and journey. It is immensely personal and yet hits universal truths about humanity.
Mansoor explains that initially he set out to make an adaptation of Antigone, but that early into the process he realized this was not the right direction for his work. Instead, the piece uses Antigone as a framework to explore Mansoor’s relationship with his mother. Most notably, it borrows many themes from the ancient Greek play, especially family and religion, but with one notable shift: the addition of queerness.
Mansoor tells us about how his mother raised him and his siblings alone for most of their life, in a post-9/11 world. He describes that close relationship along with her turn to religion after divorcing her husband, tracing it forward into his adulthood. Over that time, they started to drift away from one another. But the true breaking point comes when she discovers his queerness after a Google search. Page after page flashes up on the screen, proclaiming Mansoor as a queer artist.
That moment irrevocably changed their relationship. Mansoor explains how she started constantly praying for him, distancing herself from his present self to ensure a proper afterlife. This piece is what came after that shift. Mansoor and his mother work together in an attempt to reconnect and apologize, using Antigone as a jumping off point, a conversation starter.
In short, Amm(i)gone is a conversation between Mansoor, his mother, and the audience. Much of the piece is audio recordings and transcripts from those actual conversations between mother and son. Then, the conversation with the audience is where the virtual modality really gets to shine. Mansoor speaks straight into the camera, effortlessly capturing a feeling of welcome and intimacy. We feel like he’s speaking right to us, even though the audience is scattered all over the world. He translates Urdu to us, explains facets of Muslim culture, tells us the basic story of Antigone.
His work welcoming us is supported by the work of the design space. When first entering the live performance, we are met with music and a voice teaching us common phrases in Urdu. Aaron Landgraf’s sound design follows us through the journey, keeping the experience heightened with music and warmth. The media design by Bleue Liverpool is rich in warm tones and textured fabrics, integrating embroidery that evokes a sense of home and comfort.
Amm(i)gone is a work in progress and makes no attempts to hide that fact. Indeed, that process is a key facet of the work in performance, at least at this point. In many ways, the process is the performance. Mansoor’s recorded conversations with his mother make up most of the runtime. Mansoor’s discussion with us, the audience, takes up almost everything else. Then, finally, clips from the Juliette Binoche production of Antigone are overlaid with commentary from the mother/son duo. This multilayered conversation is Amm(i)gone: the process of creating a theatre piece based on Antigone, between mother and son.
As Mansoor and his mother watch the first scene, she points out how Antigone’s sister is right to fight against her attempts to defy the edict, that she clearly is showing love by trying to prevent Antigone from certain death. He points out how much he loves the stage transition, the way it portrays the changing of time as Antigone decides she must defy the edict to ensure her brother’s passage to the afterlife.
This moment shows the heart of Amm(i)gone: it’s a conversation between mother and son about love, religion, and theatre. But where the real emotional pang comes is in the words Mansoor can’t say to his mother, sharing only with us. His queerness, the gap between him and his mother, still exists. They have yet to reconcile fully, and she is still constantly praying for him.
“Antigone has already decided she’s going to die,” he explains. “She shows her love and care in the afterlife. And that’s what my mom is doing too. She’s trying to care for me in the afterlife. But can we care for each other here, now, while we’re alive?”
The emotion is constantly genuine, especially in the little details. Mansoor gets visibly emotional at moments, and as an audience member it’s difficult not to feel the same way. Perhaps the most intense moment is in a small specific: he tells how he wishes he could tell his mother how his partner is a tea expert. “He would make you the perfect chai,” he says, smiling through tears.
Amm(i)gone is an unfinished conversation. The audience’s desire for resolution between mother and son is one that Mansoor can’t fulfill yet. But that in-progress feeling elevates Amm(i)gone. There’s always a conversation we have yet to finish, and if nothing else, Mansoor’s discussions with his mother can inspire all of us to try to start talking again.
– Rebecca Hodge