The Play’s The Thing

Fish Creek, WI.  –  Peninsula Players Theatre will present a reading of “The Who & The What” by Ayad Akhtar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, at Björklunden at 7590 Boynton Lane, Baileys Harbor at 7p.m., Monday, February 1.  This play reading is produced with support from and in conjunction with Door County Reads and its exploration of Akhtar’s novel “American Dervish.”  Join the Players reading of a fierce and funny new play about family, faith and what happens when the two disagree.  Admission is free.

“The Who & The What” concerns Zarina, a brilliant Pakistani-American writer who, unbeknownst to her family, is finishing a novel about Islam and women.  While drafting the book she meets Eli, a young convert who bridges the gulf between her traditional heritage and her modern life.  Zarina’s family is forced to take a hard look at their beliefs when her conservative father and sister discover the controversial manuscript.  “The Who & The What” is a passionate and searing look at a family divided by faith, bonded by love and searching for truth in contemporary America.  “The Who & The What” is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award.

“When we love someone there are two modes of how we experience that love,” Akhtar said in an interview with Lincoln Center Theatre.  “One is the love for the qualities that they have or the things that they represent to us. The ‘whats’ of them.  Then the ‘who,’ which is more difficult to articulate.  It is not really associated with any of the qualities that they have, it is just the person themselves.  Each of the characters (in the play) has a relationship to each other and to themselves that is drawn on this idea of ‘who’ of the character versus the ‘what’ of a character.”

Zarina, 32, is the smartest person she has ever known while growing up in a conservative family in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is a daughter, an older sister and a Muslim.  She loves her family and has strong roots in her heritage, but is conflicted by her curiosity and hunger for knowledge, which pulls her away from that heritage and points her in another direction.  Can she be true to her heart, her spirit and still be a dutiful Muslim daughter?

Akhtar was born in New York City and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He is the author of “American Dervish,” his first novel, which has been published in more than 20 languages worldwide and was the 2012 Best Book of the Year according to Kirkus Reviews, Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Shelf-Awareness and O (Oprah) Magazine.  He is also a playwright and screenwriter. His stage play “Disgraced” was directed by Peninsula Player Kimberly Senior at New York’s LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater in 2012, and won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

“The Who & The What” premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in February 2014 and was produced at Lincoln Center Theater in June 2014.  His screenplay of “The War Within” was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.  He is the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell and Yaddo and has been commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Milwaukee Repertory Theater to write stage works.  He is a graduate of Brown and Columbia Universities with degrees in Theater and Film Directing.

Peninsula Players Artistic Director Greg Vinkler will direct the reading.  Vinkler has directed and performed in previous play readings as well as numerous Players productions since 1988. He will shortly begin rehearsals for Northlight Theatre’s production of “Butler” by Richard Strand with fellow Peninsula Player Tim Monsion. “Butler” had its Midwest premiere at the Players in 2014.

The cast for the reading of “The Who & The What” includes Rom Barkhordar as Afzal, a   Pakistani immigrant who operates a successful cab company in Atlanta and is Zarina’s traditionalist father; Minita Gandhi as Mahwish, Zarinia’s conservative younger sister;  Susaan Jamshidi as Zarina, an independent-minded and outspoken Harvard graduate; and Chad Luberger as Eli, a convert to Muslim who runs a civic-minded mosque.  Barkhordar, Gandhi and Jamshidi all performed in Victory Garden Theater’s 2015 production of “The Who & The What.”

Barkhordar is a Chicago stage veteran whose credits include “The Elephant Man” at Steppenwolf Theatre; “Around the World in 80 Days” at Lookingglass Theatre; and “In a Garden” with A Red Orchid Theatre for which he received a Jeff nomination for Best Actor.  He has worked at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Writers Theatre and many more.

Gandhi has called Chicago her artistic home for more than eight years.  Her stage credits include work at Silk Road Rising, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Lookinglass Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theater. She can be seen on NBC’s “Chicago Fire” (in the recurring role of Dr. Prospere), “Crisis” and Fox’s “Empire” and “The Chicago Code.”

Jamshidi’s stage credits include “The Count of Monte Cristo” at Chicago’s Sideshow Theatre; “The Arabian Nights” at Arena Stage in Washington D.C.; “Tartuffe” and “The Winter’s Tale” at Michigan Shakespeare Festival.  Her film work includes “Bullets and Briefcases” and “Skippy Love Chicago.” She is an Associate Artist with Chicago Dramatists.

Luberger calls Door County home and was last seen in Northern Sky’s production of “When Butter Churns to Gold.” His local stage credits include “Assassins” at Isadora Theater; “Almost Maine” at Third Avenue Playhouse; “Life on the Mississippi” and “The Bachelors” at Northern Sky Theater.  Film and television credits include “The Christmas Tree,” “Ed Gein,” “Star Trek Voyager” and “Jag.”

“The Who & The What” is the first of three readings of The Play’s the Thing, a winter series of play readings produced by Peninsula Players Theatre. Phone the Peninsula Players at 920-868-3287 for information on the reading of “The Who & The What,” at Björklunden 7p.m., Monday, February, 1.   Admission is free, general seating available.

The Play’s the Thing is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, as well as generous grants from Ministry Door County Medical Center and Friends of Door County Libraries.

Door County Reads is in its sixth year, having grown out of the Library/Players partnership to bring The Big Read to Door County for three years.  This year’s read focuses on the novel “American Dervish” by Ayad Akhtar.  A full listing of events can be found at

Peninsula Players will host additional winter play readings Mondays March 7 and April 4.   “The Love List,” a careful-what-you-wish-for comedy by Norm Foster, will be read March 7.  “Who Am I This Time (& Other Conundrums of Love)” by Aaron Posner, adapted from stories by Kurt Vonnegut, will be featured April 4.

Peninsula Players Theatre is America’s Oldest Professional Resident Summer Theatre. The Play’s the Thing is part of the Players’ continuing winter outreach programming, presenting professional play readings for the public. Learn more about Peninsula Players at