FUNNY - a trunk show
nytheatre.com review by Amy Lee Pearsall
February 26, 2011
In Funny | A Trunk Show, Denmo Ibrahim brings to FRIGID New York a one-(wo)man portrait of an Egyptian immigrant named Mohammed who shares his experiences as a foreigner in the country he chooses to call home—even as he deals with the red-tape purgatory of a U.S. passport office.
As Mo traverses the line, lugging two hard-sided suitcases with him back and forth across the stage, Rebecca Ford's costume design calls to mind a turtle carrying his shell with him. In pants, coat, and a moustache all about a size too large, huge glasses magnify Ibrahim's eyes and a padded torso suggests that Mo could stand to lose a few ("30 pounds," Mo says, according to his wife). A wig that repeatedly creeps up Ibrahim's head is badly in need of securing. The continuous wig adjustments are meant for comic effect and are obviously a bit of staged business, but reminding us that the wig is fake and that we are watching a performance is unnecessary and distracting.
While Ibrahim is an endearing performer, the piece could benefit from the assistance of a director (if there is one, it is not obvious from the program). The great albatross for Funny is its name. The first 10 minutes of the performance are weighed down with mugging and grand gestures that perhaps Ibrahim felt were necessary to establish her character but risk drawing Mo into the realm of caricature. When she is playing for truth and not pushing for laughs, her work is not unlike watching light shine through a prism—stunning and revelatory. Though Ibrahim occasionally loses her accent in the more emotional moments and could be more aware of energetically portraying a man in his 40s, I had tears streaming down my face by the end of this 45-minute piece and I wasn't the only one.
The performance—for the most part a monologue—is taken directly to the audience and occasionally demands answers from them. When Ibrahim does briefly channel other characters, it is done concisely.
The light design by Curtis Overacre utilizes cross fades that pull focus, though that may have been due to clunky execution. A sound design of bell chimes and the automated numbers being called adds significantly to the air of an interminable waiting room and are often timed to hysterical effect.
In terms of the strength of the story, Ibrahim has crafted an empathetic portrait of a man who leaves the land of his birth to seek the homeland he dreams of in America, only to have that dream torn from his hands by bureaucracy, circumstance, and the newfound American-style ambition of his wife. The press release for Funny suggests that the production is about what is left behind in the search for the American dream, but it may be more accurate to suggest it's about what we acquire in the way of baggage on the journey and how sometimes it can break our backs.
The heart-wrenching ending is a bit muddled, leaving the audience to wonder what is real and creates many more questions instead of offering a resolution. Where is Mo going and for how long? Is the implied presence of Mo’s daughter on stage merely a projection of his desires? If the intent is to leave the audience turning the ending over in their minds, that is achieved (indeed, I have thought about it for two days), but providing more tangible answers might increase the stakes, help to further justify Mo's eventual breakdown and could strengthen and clarify the final moment.
There is a line that Mo delivers to the passport agent on the other side of the counter: "The health of a man can be seen through his eyes...[and] your eyes look like diamonds." While there are moments where the brilliance of Funny | A Trunk Show could be aided by a clearer, cleaner cut, Ibrahim's eyes shine like diamonds in those gigantic glasses. It's worth taking a look.