Kal Mansoor’s “A Brief History of Colonization”: A Review

IMG_9553A Brief History of Colonization, created and performed by actor/writer/producer Kal Mansoor (iCarly, William and Kate), begins with a famous quote by American writer Mark Twain: “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition.”
(It WAS Mark Twain, wasn’t it? Or was it… Nicholas Cage?!)
But if the history books have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t always treat our elders well…

A Brief History of Colonization made its world premiere at New York City’s famous performance venue Dixon Place on Tuesday, January 30th. A British-born Indian, Mansoor notes in the beginning of his show that exploring the subject of colonization was a conflicting one for him. He’s proud to be British, but was also spiritually affected by the long history of crimes against humanity committed on his ancestors. Mansoor’s intelligent, lively, and deftly humorous one-man show explores the many forms of exploitation suffered by the Indian subcontinent, which started in the 16th century and ended (sort of…) when India finally achieved complete independence from Great Britain on August 15, 1947– albeit with many battle scars intact. With a brightly colored map of India and an equally colorful homemade photo montage in the background, Mansoor fantastically envisions the history that dare not speak its name in the form of a big budget cinematic experience… and, oh, what a cast he has in mind! Everyone from Matthew McConaughey as Vasco da Gama, on to Mike Myers (in a dual role, natch!), Hugh Grant, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Kevin Spacey, and Jean Claude Van Damme (in his most exciting role in years!)… all the way to Hank Azaria as a leather-clad, motorcycle riding Mahatma Gandhi. Giggle if you want to– but given Hollywood’s predilections for bankable names over historical and ethnic accuracy, it’s not THAT hard to imagine…

India became an area of interest for Europe, as Mansoor reveals, largely because of its rich spice trade (“…not to be confused with the Spice GIRLS!”). The history of colonization was spearheaded by Portugal and continued with the Netherlands when opium became more profitable than spices. After all, how could cinnamon compete with smack?  What followed were centuries of opportunism, abuse, and oppression, made possible by superior weaponry (AKA guns), insatiable quest for profit, and a Euro-centric air of superiority. The French, Danish, and British ultimately joined in for their piece of the meat pie– and, as we all know, it was the British who stayed the longest and wore out their so-called “welcome”. The control of India went to the British crown, and in 1877, Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India. As Mansoor points out, it was… ahem, “a great honor for the Indian people.” The legacy of colonization has colored the relationship between the two countries to this very day.

And yes, kids, as I mentioned before, A Brief History of Colonization is a comedy! It’s a comedy about monetary profit over humanity, slavery, murder, war crimes, famine, a refugee crisis, exploitation of religious differences, “mutiny” (in this case, taking back one’s own country…), and more happy subjects. Are you laughing yet? You will be. In between getting a lesson about a chapter in history that’s decidedly NOT taught in school today, Mansoor imbues a sense of humor throughout his piece.  This includes his sharing of little-known but fascinating tidbits of history, told in a deliciously deadpan way (An example: “Technology, music, literature art, and astronomy all flourished in India– where some of the world’s earliest and greatest discoveries were made. For example: the concept of zero. Only Indian people are clever enough to invent literally nothing.”). And then, of course, there are Mansoor’s imitations of the actors employed in his fantastical cinematic re-imagining of the story. In Lily Tomlin-esque fashion, Mansoor is able to transition between the characters employed in his “dream cast” within seconds– especially when he takes on the actor who every actor likes to imitate, Christopher Walken! (He’s cast as the Portuguese viceroy Afonso de Albuquerque.)

What’s most amazing is how much Mansoor packs into the show’s brief running time, which is under an hour.  A Brief History of Colonization is smart, funny, and educational. Later in the show, we learn about “Government of India Act” in 1935, which handed control of certain areas of India back to the Indian government. Mansoor pointed out that the bill actually favored the British, because there were no actual Indians involved in drafting it. He added, sarcastically, “Thank God things like that don’t happen here no more!” Hmmm… Make that “smart, funny, and educational AND still disturbingly relevant in 2018″…

IMG_9556Kal Mansoor’s A Brief History of Colonization will be performed again as part of the New Works Series at the Emerging Artists Theatre Company, West 28th Street #3, New York City, on Friday, March 16, at 7PM.

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