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Nadia Manzoor's Burq Off; Humorous, Touching, Empowering

Humorous, touching, authentic, empowering, Nadia Manzoor’s Burq Off! takes audiences on a journey through the complexities of a young Pakistani woman trying to find her way and voice as a Muslim in the western world.

Nadia Manzoor, Burq Off!
Leslie Van Stelten

Exploring themes of sex, religion, culture and family with truth, insight and sensitivity, Manzoor navigates the often rocky road between modern London and conservative Pakistani Muslim values at home.

With only the help of a long shawl as her prop, Manzoor embodies 21 different characters moving from one to the other effortlessly. Manzoor brings to life her domineering father and soulful mum, a saucy English girlfriend, her Irish boyfriend, Islamic studies teachers with flair and panache, illuminating her conflicted sense of identity, and questioning repressive cultural norms, such as growing up to get married and cook. We get a sense of the rebel in the young girl when she announces that she wants to be an astronaut and her father laughingly tells her no, that’s impossible, “Who will feed your husband if you are floating around in space?"

Manzoor has written and performs her autobiographical one woman show with bravery and wit, holding nothing back, telling how she must lie to her parents about going to the movies with her free spirited English friends; how it feels the first time she puts on a bikini in Majorca, how she wants to have sex, all the while dealing with her twin brother who has become a radical fundamentalist.

Cleverly staged, the set is draped in colorful silk hangings with only a wooden table and three chairs, which Manzoor uses to change the scene from her parents home, to her dorm room, and the bar where she meets the Irish bartender. Punctuated by fiery Bollwood dance moves, the show moves at a fast clip, the 80 minutes fly by leaving you wondering why this wonder woman doesn’t even seem to be breathing hard after a breathtaking performance.

The show centers around the Pakistani culture, but its message is universal, young people questioning the status quo, finding their identity, moving beyond their families expectations, “walking out the front door”, as Manzoor so deftly puts it.

“I want to encourage young Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, to have the courage to challenge the people who we love when our ideologies are in conflict,” says Manzoor, “It’s much easier to stay silent… when you question the ideas that you were raised with, it can be very scary. Yet, silence – not expressing your beliefs – also comes at a price.”

If the show comes back to Los Angeles, put it on your calendar in bold letters. You will be entertained, moved and will gain some insight into the Pakistani culture.

Nadia Manzoor’s Burq Off! will travel to the Bay Area this weekend, so Angelenos, if you happen to be traveling north you still have an opportunity to see the show, and spread the word to bay area friends.

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