For actor-playwright Fargo Nissim Tbakhi, performing My Father, My Martyr, and Me at DC’s Capital Fringe Festival must be an endurance test. In a sweltering basement off the C&O Canal in Georgetown, Tbakhi delivers a stunning exploration of his identities as a queer Palestinian American, through elegiac poetry, songs, interactive games, and towering speeches. It’s a feat that looks exhausting to perform. It’s also a feat that generates boundless moments of beauty and reckoning.
As the show’s title implies, Tbakhi structures his show around “three generations of displacement.” They are his father, Wajeh Tbakhi (who was indicted in 2013 for a mortgage fraud scheme), his “martyr” Sirhan Bishara Sirhan (who murdered Robert Kennedy in 1968 and introduced many Americans to Palestine), and himself (trying to understand these entangled histories).
Don’t expect a straightforward narrative in this show. Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, Tbakhi generously asks his audience to arrange and participate in his performance. At the same time, Tbakhi displays a masterful command of language. As if under a spell, he delivers monologues that cycle through images of borders, museums, and birds, along with loss of both home and family.
It’s simply astounding to watch Tbakhi perform. As he literally unearths props and symbols of memory from a large mound of soil onstage, he also metaphorically unearths himself to the audience, digging into the ruptures of his very being.
Tbhaki’s doing so much with his body it almost feels overwhelming. Midway through the show, I wanted to let him know it was okay to stop, that he had already given so much and didn’t need to give more. However, Tbakhi knows that life itself doesn’t stop for breaks. So as a sweaty brine glistened from his body, I realized that exhaustion can also be a form of resilience, and a form of protest.
My Father, My Martyr, and Me isn’t just one of the best shows at the Capital Fringe Festival. It’s one of the most profound shows DC theater has to offer.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
My Father, My Martyr, and Me plays five times from July 14 to 23, 2022, at WHATSOEVER (click for location details and directions). To see the performance schedule and purchase tickets ($15), go online.
COVID Safety: The audience is to remain masked for the show. The mask needs to cover your mouth and nose the whole time. Proof of vaccination and ID are checked before entry.
Age appropriateness: Recommended for children 13 + older