It is opening weekend for the play “Infidel” at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, and a USC alumna will be taking center stage.
Aneesha Madhok, who graduated this past spring, will portray the lead female role as the protagonist’s wife. She moved from India in 2014 to study theatre and has always loved acting, even staging her own show called “Aliza Free” back home. The show was set in Israel, and aimed to raise awareness about how visually impaired people are often isolated and excluded from society. It was picked up by almost two dozen newspapers, which Madhok says encouraged her to pursue theatrical arts more seriously.
Madhok, who always wanted to pursue theatre, said she found ways to incorporate her heritage into her work upon arriving at USC. She created her own fusion style of dance that combined traditional ballet with Kathak, a northern Indian style of dance.
“That also really influenced my comedy because a lot of my comedy is about my childhood in India [and] how I, as an Indian, see the world,” Madhok said. “But my education was in a private English school so that’s why I have an American accent -— so all those factors really influenced my art.”
While at USC, Madhok majored in theatre and minored in screenwriting. She was deeply involved with the student production “Love & Information.” During her senior year, she co-founded the USC Stand-Up Comedy Club.
It didn’t take Madhok long after graduation to land up her role in “Infidel.”
“I heard about this play from a friend and I auditioned for it,” Madhok said. “I really loved my character, Myiesha, because I change the mind of the suicide bomber, Jamil, and win him with my love. I don’t use any seduction, no violence; just pure, spiritual love.”
“Infidel” tells the story of an American anthropologist who is kidnapped by fundamentalists in Baghdad and follows the ensuing struggle between faith and terrorism in the context of Islam and Western imperialism. The thrilling drama is directed by Christopher Vened, who says he was inspired by a video where masked terrorists were smashing ancient religious sculptures. He said he wanted to explore conflicting intersections of religion and culture in “Infidel.”
“Every day we hear about terrorists who kill in the name of God, a concept that is impossible to grasp because most of us see it as a deed of pure evil,” Vened said, in a press release. “Maybe it’s a fantasy, but I wanted to write a play that would humanize these radicals and find a way to liberate them from their fanaticism.”