“Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto” at Culture Project at 45 Bleecker Street

Written and Performed by Anna Khaja
Directed by Heather de Michele
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Point of view percolates a delicious brew of intrigue in Anna Khaja’s “Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto” playing at Culture Project at 45 Bleecker Street. Through the points of view of eight characters, Khaja’s engaging play focuses on the life and death of Benazir Bhutto and this literary device allows the audience member to have access to a variety of understandings of Bhutto’s controversial personal and political history.

Under Heather de Michelle’s thoughtful and sedulous direction, Ms. Khaja plays all eight characters in an episodic rather than a chronological fashion: Sara an American college student; The United States Secretary of State from 2005 until 2009 Condoleezza Rice; Daphne Barak an international journalist; Quasim a professor at Boston University; Benazir’s niece Fatima Bhutto; Shamsher an auto-rickshaw driver in Rawalpindi; Afshan a student in Islamabad; and Benazir Bhutto herself who secures the penultimate point of view to her own story.

Ms. Khaja’s transformation from one character to another is not a conscious act. The actor morphs into her characters unconsciously and through an inner process. In other words, Anna Khaja does not “do” the characters; she “is” the characters intrinsically and precisely.

At the beginning of the play, Sara an American college student in Rawalpindi (Pindi) Pakistan shares her belief that the international focus should be on the Pakistani people who just want healing for themselves and for their country. A simple credo but one which all too often remains far removed from action. The international community would rather focus on what how what happens in Pakistan might benefit the world political community.

Benazir Bhutto’s story – her dream and her death – can be seen as an extended metaphor for the struggle of all dreamers to fulfill what they determine to be their life’s purpose. What do the members of their family think of them? What do their peers thin k of them? How important are their dreams in the larger scheme of human affairs? Perhaps the most significant question comes from Bhutto’s niece, [As a dreamer], “when and how does corruption creep up on you?”

Finally, this important play raises the deep and rich questions that have yet to be answered: How do dreamers and their dreams correlate with the disturbing history of dreamers meeting their deaths in less than natural ways? What is worth dying for and how effective have the deaths of dreamers proven to be historically? Join this important conversation counterpointed in the brilliant and imperious performance of Anna Khaja.