Qurrat Kadwani in ‘Intrusion.’ (Photo: Jamal Burke)
By Winnie McCroy
Imagine it’s 20 years in the future, and rape has been eradicated. Everyone is finally “equal,” gender is non-binary, and sexual violence is over. Until it isn’t. This is the premise of actress and activist Qurrat Ann Kadwani’s Intrusion, a futuristic one-woman play running through September 27 at St. Luke’s Theatre.
In her well-paced but sometimes heavy-handed look at rape culture, Ms. Kadwani uses minimal props to portray seven different characters who talk about the impact of sexual violence. The characters include a bewildered college student ready to make signs and then organize sit-ins, rallies and protests; there’s also a shifty day trader whose swaggering bravado eventually dissipates to reveal his personal encounter with sexual violence.
We see various perspectives through the eyes of a prosecutor, journalist and politician, among others. We even get a simplified look at how the idea of girls and boys being “equal” is ingrained in the mind of a precocious school child. As the cast of characters reveals their stories over the course of an hour, we learn that despite popular conceit, sexual violence was never truly eradicated in this futuristic utopia. Stories begin to leak out, from lawmakers, reporters, and those seeking to profit off the idea of a “safe” new world to the ones who must live with the knowledge that since the beginning of recorded history, little has changed around sexual violence.
Ms. Kadwani does a solid job of making each of her characters distinctive by simply adding a bow tie or strand of pearls to her slacks and button-down ensemble, effectively inhabiting the struggle each character is facing. But in the end, she may have too much on her plate for one woman to handle.
Another problematic point is the actress’s habit of exhibiting society’s long history of sexual violence by having her characters present a litany of incidents that illustrate her point. When talking about rape, she mentions Coach Bob Knight’s comment that “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it,” then segues into Donald Trump’s infamous comment that, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.”
However, using the same technique with every character comes across as didactic and distancing. Her point would be better served with a more nuanced touch. Which brings us to the elephant in the room: the ongoing game of Jenga that Kadwani employs as a metaphor, meant to come tumbling down at the end. Throughout the action, each character moves a block of wood from a Jenga tower to the top, building up a false sense of achievement in a post-rape world that never really existed.
When the tower is finally toppled at the end of the play, my guest leaned over and whispered sarcastically, “Wow. I never saw that coming.” It’s a cliche moment and warning enough to step away from the obvious in dealing with such a multi-faceted issue.
Ms. Kadwani, notwithstanding, does manage to comprehensively cover the history of sexual violence and general inequality of the sexes, from power dynamics to the media, Title IX to LGBTQ rights, and rape psychology. She said that she was inspired to create Intrusion after reading of the horrific 2012 gang rape and murder of Indian woman Jyoti Singh on a private bus as the victim returned home from the movies with a male friend.
From that tragedy, she has created something powerful. Intrusion may not be perfect, but it takes necessary steps toward sparking a long overdue dialogue about sexual violence in our culture.
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th Street, NYC
Through September 27
Winnie McCroy is a longtime arts & entertainment writer who lives in Brooklyn with her wife and her giant Rottweiler, Dixie Carter. For more of her reviews, visit winniemccroy.com.