No Word In Guyanese For Me

As if being an average American teenager isn't hard enough, try being a Muslim lesbian from Guyana coming of age in post-9/11 Queens. Playwright Wendy Graf beautifully captures the painful losses suffered by Hanna (a superb Anna Khaja) in this solo show about a woman's struggle to locate her identity amid mixed messages about sexual, cultural, ethnic, and religious mores.

From a young age, Hanna's personality is formed around loss. When her mother dies before Hanna's 10th birthday, Hanna and her brothers are sent to live with an aunt and uncle, while their biological father remarries and starts a new family. Though Hanna's grief is profound, her new family is fairly solid, and she finds solace in the company of her aunt. But when the family moves to Queens, the skip in Hanna's girlish step subsides quickly. The sole Muslim at her school, Hanna is ridiculed and shamed daily. When the twin towers are hit by planes, her life becomes a living hell. Her pain is compounded by an arranged marriage that fails miserably due to her closeted homosexuality. Family rejection follows.

Though coming-of-age solo shows tend to get mired in self-pity and melodrama, Graf's skilled pen and Khaja's exceedingly detailed character studies keep Hanna's painful plight anchored in unadorned frankness. Director Anita Khanzadian tackles truthfully the realities of Hanna's oppression, but she consistently steers the character toward insight rather than letting her wallow. Khaja has an uncanny knack for transforming her face to suit the multiple characters she inhabits. Her eyes suggest fatherly stoicism one minute, childlike awe the next. She is similarly chameleonlike in her vocalizations. The 49-seat space is the perfect venue in which to witness this detailed commitment to craft.

Presented by Hatikvah Productions at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 W. Riverside Drive, #D, Burbank. May 14–June 12. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (800) 838-3006.