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Draw the Circle

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen shines as he plays countless characters in "Draw the Circle" which he also wrote.

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Mashuq Mushtaq Deen in a scene from “Draw the Circle” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

More of an actor’s exercise than a play, Mashuq Mushtaq Deen shines as he plays countless characters in Draw the Circle which he also wrote. Ironically, the main character, Shireen–who Deen originally was–is the only one we never meet, which contributes to the feeling that this isn’t really a play.

But in Deen’s mad dash to portray Shireern’s elderly Indian father and mother–who live in Connectictut–her girlfriend, Molly, and so many other figures, including even a housecleaner at a Motel 8, where Shireen attempted suicide–he seems to have a different voice and demeanor for every one of them. He even–on his knees and with a little girl’s voice–plays Shireen’s five-year-old niece, Rabia.

The story, such as it is, focuses on Shireen’s becoming a man and on her parents’ inability and unwillingness to accept it. As Molly tells us, they don’t even have any “pictures of him in the house past high school,” after the change was complete. When she was younger, she used to scar herself–in order “to cope with her suicidal ideations,” Dr. Erikson (also played by Deen) tells us. Molly also tells us about the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem “where people actually took bets on whether [Shireen] was a girl or a boy.”

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen in a scene from “Draw the Circle” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Along the way, we meet a number of other transgender people, including Jack, who is a member of a Trans Masculine Support Group, which is “for folks who were assigned female at birth but who don’t feel like that label is complete or correct.” From the beginning, Draw the Circle is primarily about the difficulties transgender people have coping with a disapproving world–not only the disapproval of their own families. In the end, the names and ages of 28 transgender people who were killed in one year are projected on a rear wall, as Deen removes his shirt to show us his “top surgery” and “chest reconstruction.”

Though you continually marvel at Deen’s multiple abilities to inhabit so very many different types and characters, you might also find yourself wishing that director Chay Yew had gotten Deen to slow down his delivery some. With their names projected in every instance, they keep flying by so quickly, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the story. And though Yew is also credited with the set design, there is no set to speak of–only a plain white chair, which Deen occasionally sits on. The production also has some very effective lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger.

While the script begins with some notes describing three different ways to present the play–the first, a “version for three actors,” the second, “a version for one actor, who is not the author,” and the third, “a version for one actor, who is the author”–lucky for us, Deen and Yew opted for the third version, since it allows us to see Deen’s extraordinary range.

Draw the Circle (through February 18, 2018)

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-627-2556 or visit http://www.rattlestick.org

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (75 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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