Hot on the heels of the Bush Theatre’s sell-out run of Ayad Akhtar’s play about the Muslim/ Pakistani experience in America ’Disgraced’ – comes the UK premiere of Wajahat Ali’s ‘The Domestic Crusaders’, a play about Muslim/ Pakistani family life in America so in-your-face hilariously insightful that one of our team left the theatre with what she insists is PTSD.
While Disgraced centred on the main character’s relationship with his non-Muslim wife and friends, The Domestic Crusaders focusses in on the Pakistani immigrant family unit, and the several existential crises that come home to roost during one ill-fated birthday party. Told through the stories of the three siblings – Salahuddin, Fatima and Ghafoor – Mum Kulsoom and Dad Salman, and the quite sublime dada with a dark side, the play explores almost every issue known to exercise South Asian immigrant families. There’s rejection of traditional culture, perpetuation of traditional culture, social activism, political apathy, patriarchal gender norms, women’s empowerment, prejudice, nationalism, persecution, violence of both the domestic and political kind, the tragedy of the unmarried daughter, the horror of inter-racial relationships, the eternal ‘my son the doctor’ complex, and the role of the “community”.
The contradictions are deliberately pronounced, and the first half in particular features the actors in constant, noticeably choreographed movement around the stage – mimicking the almost rhythmic performance of conflict and conciliation that characterise many family relationships. As you gain, and then lose, and then gain again sympathy for each character, you realize that ultimately Domestic Crusaders is about the struggle that first, second and even third generation immigrants face in making sense of the changing world around them, and finding their place in both its private and public spheres.
The breakneck pace of the writing has an almost West Wing like sensibility – and makes for a play that’s funny, clever and utterly irreverent. Mum (“Call me Mao”) has the best lines. She doesn’t like rap music: “Doggy dogg, puffy bakwaas nonsense”, and her politics are mainstream: “Left, right, centre, conservative, liberal, whatever happened to NORMAL?!” Performed in London at a time when the second season of Citizen Khan has kicked off with a viewership of three million on a prime-time slot on BBC One (we know, we know Critics 0 – Public 4), it’s hard not to recommend The Domestic Crusaders as a more responsible and nuanced effort.
The Domestic Crusaders is on at Tara Arts until October 11th, and if there’s one thing you should do for yourself that’ll make you laugh and think in equal measure, this is it. Tickets are available here.