Qurrat Ann Kadwani’s solo show, They Call Me Q at St. Luke’s Theatre, chronicles her struggle for identity as she is raised by Indian immigrants in the Bronx. Kadwani is an energetic performer who easily transitions between accents when she takes on characters from her past. Her confident storytelling makes for a breezy first half, though the rest of the show finds her less sure-footed.
Kadwani’s autobiographical show is a balancing act that shows her attempting to exist as both an intelligent Indian woman and a streetwise Bronx teenager. She often clashes with her neighbors and classmates over cultural differences in altercations that are both humorous and unsettling. Kadwani is at her best when she plays her overbearing mother with a thick Indian accent and a patronizing smile. It’s a character she’s clearly developed over the course of her life. Her accent work in general is clean and her Bronx characters are as convincing as the Indian ones.
Kadwani admits in the show to participating in speech and debate in high school and it shows here. The play is competition-ready with distinct, compact characters with clear vocal and physical characterizations. As adept as she is at switching between characters, the form limits her to broad comedy. More dramatic sections come across as forced. Additionally, while her transitions between characters are clear, they tend to be a little labored with simple costume changes that take too long and pauses for dramatic effect or laughter that sometimes fall fl
Kadwani’s bright personality lends best to comedy, which leads to a disappointing second half that finds her trying to make sense of her identity. The strength of the show’s first half is her ability to not take herself too seriously. The latter portion finds her making grand metaphors of her life experiences, which include the death of a friend and a journey back to India. While these events are clearly important in composing her journey to discovering her multi-faceted identity, they never quite make the transition to good storytelling. It leaves the show with a bit of a fortune cookie quality that allows it to easily fade away. Kadwani could use some sharper observations on her life story and the immigrant story in general to make for a more lasting effect.
They Call Me Q is playing at St. Luke’s Theatre (http://stlukestheatre.com; 212-239-6200) from May 19-July 2.