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Arts, Sports & Culture

Queer Pittsburgh artist turns to Greek drama to explore his relationship with his mother

Adil Mansoor
Beth Barbis
/
Kelly-Strayhorn Theater
Adil Mansoor in performance

Adil Mansoor was just 3 months old when he emigrated from Pakistan, with his mother and two siblings, some 36 years ago. They lived in the suburbs of Chicago, and Mansoor describes he and his mother as inseparable. “A momma’s boy,” he calls himself.

In recent years, however, their relationship has frayed. The main reason, he said, is that he is queer. His mother, a social worker and devout Muslim, fears that will harm him in the afterlife, and keep the family from being together in eternity. “She prays for me sunset to sunrise to return to Islam, and I’m learning to see that prayer as an act of care,” he said.

Adil Mansoor
Adil Mansoor
Mansoor as a child, in costume.

Mansoor, who moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, is a professional theater director and educator. The process of healing his relationship with his mother led him to introduce her to “Antigone,” Sophocles’ tragedy about a woman who risks death by burying her slain brother in defiance of the king. Their ongoing conversation about the ancient classic is at the center of “Amm(i)gone,” Mansoor’s new performance and lecture, co-commissioned by the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. The show gets six performance at the theater’s Alloy Studios, in Friendship, starting Fri., April 22.

“The show itself is me contending with the ways in which my mom understands this play, and understands our relationship,” Monsoor said. “What the play is looking at, in many ways, is how is it that we can talk about these things that are very hard, and what can it look like for different families in different ways.”

“Amm(i)gone”’s title is a portmanteau of “Antigone” and “ammi,” the Urdu word for “mom.” (Mansoor pronounces the title “ah-mee-gone.”) Though he describes the show as an adaptation of Sophocles’ classic, its discussions of queerness, family, love, and the afterlife incorporate everything from the Koran to audio of discussions between he and his mother, and archival video of productions of “Antigone.”

In order to protect his mother’s privacy, Mansoor is not sharing her name. But he calls her his “dramaturg and co-conspirator” in the show, which is rooted in her deep identification with a heroine who values family loyalty and the afterlife above her own life on earth. (A dramaturg is a kind of literary editor for plays.)

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“My mom sees Antigone as a hero. My mom is so excited by the way Antigone moves about the world and the kind of decisions she makes,” he said. “And my mom lights up with joy. She’s like, ‘Oh my God, I understand that. I know what that is about. I know why she’s doing what she’s doing.’”

However, he said it is “improbable” his mother will see the show he created with her.

Monsoor is known more as a director than a performer. His credits include three productions with Quantum Theatre, including “Plano” (whose final weekend is also the opening weekend of “Amm(i)gone”). He also teaches: He’s taught at Dreams of Hope, an LGBTQ+ youth-arts organization in Pittsburgh, The Andy Warhol Museum, Sarah Lawrence College, and Middlebury College.

Monsoor grew up in the Muslim tradition and remains culturally Muslim. Before the Wed., April 27, performance, guests are invited to join the Kelly Strayhorn and the show’s creative team for a special Iftar Party and meal to break the Ramadan fast.

“Amm(i)gone” runs through April 30. More information is here.

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