nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 15, 2004
Browntown, a comedy by actor Sam Younis, is about—actors. Specifically, three actors—three "brown" actors—who are auditioning for the same role, Mohammed the Crazed Arab Terrorist, in a new TV movie. The first to arrive is Malek, played by Younis himself, who is having a tough time finding work—demand for actors who look like him (i.e., like "them," Arabs) is almost exclusively in roles like this one, which is by no means a comfortable fit for him, artistically or morally. He's joined soon by Omar (Omar Koury), who is even more fed up with the typecasting situation; and then by Vijay (Debargo Sanyal), a slick Julliard School grad with all the right casting moves, who has already built up a long list of terrorist credits in films and TV (his last big role was opposite Chuck Norris).
The idea is that the current state of the world and the nation means that there's only one image of the Arab in our popular culture at the moment—the suicide bomber, ready to blow himself up to destroy the infidels. It's a sound idea, and an important one; I wish that Younis had plunged even deeper, though, to look at the broader problem of racism, which existed even before 9/11. Let's face it: actors of Asian descent—Middle Eastern, South Asian, East Asian, and everything in between—don't get cast in mainstream plays, movies, and television, period, except in ethnic roles that are generally demeaning or damaging stereotypes. Malek and Omar fantasize about writing their own movie script, but they decide it will be about Jordanian astronauts. What about a play or film about people whose skin color and ancestry aren't even noted?
Browntown, which is very funny, by the way, does trade in American racism, personified by an extremely dim-witted casting director named Ann who doesn't know how to pronounce "Singh" and doesn't know that Trinidad and India aren't Arab countries. (Revenge is sweet; I am sure Younis is writing from experience.) Ignorance even extends to our protagonists: Omar is surprised to learn that another (unseen) actor is Indian, and not Arab as he supposed.
Younis provides a sharp payoff which I won't reveal here. The play, well-directed by Abigail Marateck and very professionally produced by Younis and Marateck, makes for an entertaining and pointed hour, showcasing the considerable talents of the three "brown" actors Younis, Koury, and Sanyal. Producers in the audience would do well to take Browntown's lessons to heart and offer some meaty roles—Hamlets, Cyranos, Willy Lomans—to these extraordinarily able young men.