Alex Mahgoub’s Baba is an intimate dive into a son’s attempt to process the untimely death of his father, reconcile his sexuality, and build for himself the meaning of manhood in a brand new city.
It’s a quick one-man show, crammed into the upper floor of The Argonaut just blocks away from Capital Fringe’s new Logan Fringe Arts Space. Through a rapidly-shifting blend of direct narrative and animated-vignette, Mahgoub takes the audience from the foundational trauma of his childhood through maturity as an actor-turned-broker in New York City (business cards dropping, and all).
The early and violent death of his father—re-told here with stirring intensity in one of this piece’s standout moments—is fruitful coming-of-age fodder for the bisexual child of a self-made Egyptian-Muslim immigrant, discovering for himself the meaning of manhood in the shadow of his Baba’s legacy.
It’s an impactful story, energetically told. Mahgoub’s delivery is wide-eyed and excited, if not over-eager, as though more focused on getting us through the key details in a timely fashion than in allowing us more time with the many characters in his storied family tree.
Written and performed by Alex Mahgoub
Directed by Armando Merlo
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The performance races, and would benefit from allowing itself some breathing room as it approaches its emotional cores. Mahgoub’s an energetic pitchman for his scrapbook story, but occasionally imprecise as he shifts gears abruptly from vignette to vignette, accompanied by poorly-chosen sound cues that reveal more of the story’s stitching than we need or care to see. But the moments of poignancy are strong—the unsettling death of his dad; an electrifying first-kiss on a New York-night; the discovery of his revived masculinity, reformatted to fit his own life as opposed to his father’s. It’s an imprecise and hurried engine that drives this play, though the moments that dive deep are expansive and rich and worth the ride. Though in the end it feels more like watching a performer in rehearsal, rather than truly sharing in this complex emotional exhalation.
But in a story of jumps and starts, Mahgoub succeeds in introducing us to his Baba—the tangential protagonist of the piece, as well as its omnipresent ghost. The complicated legacy left behind by a man defined by a different time is painfully apparent in Mahgoub’s attempt to reconcile his own nouveau masculinity. It’s a play of borderlands—a foreign father and native son; an immigrant husband and American wife; a traditionalist’s worldview and a bisexual millennial. Mahgoub’s identity clash in the marginalized space between straight and gay does justice to the many paradoxes of his parentage. A promising story, in all, though visibly stitched. Its emotions are real and its narrator captivating, but its flow inorganic and forced.
In all, Baba is a tender story by gentle son.