Brimful of Asha by Why Not Theatre comes recommended by several sources – with high ratings from national and international critics. Within the first minutes of curtain it’s easy to see why.
We are welcomed into the Studio at Centre in the Square by friendly ushers who inform us that we should make sure we are ready to sit for 80 minutes without an intermission – those who leave will not be able to re-enter the theatre. This becomes important. In this production, not a single line, quip, or anecdote is extraneous, and the production itself is deeply immersive. They all weave together in a tapestry to create a big-picture story about an Indian son and his mother.
Asha (the mother) was born in India. She moved to Canada to be with her husband in the context of an arranged marriage. (Important – In Jainism, parents arrange marriages based on data about the individuals and their families… but the marriage does not happen unless both of the people to marry agree.) Her two sons are born in Canada, and the story unfolds to show not only how cultures cross with differences between Canadian and Indian expectations around marriage, but also how the characters are also prone to generational expectations in rapidly changing times.
Asha is not an actor (she tells us), but her son – theatre creator Ravi most definitely is. As he tells a story, he welcomes his mother to contribute her angle on the circumstance of marriage, and when she and Ravi’s father attempted to arrange a marriage for Ravi. Asha is not shy. Throughout the storytelling, she interjects and clarifies details according to her perspective and reckoning.
The set is minimal. An iridescent curtain of lush Indian fabric drapes the back drop, a digital display which serves the purpose of display of information hangs mid-way down the curtain. And finally, a table decorated with a cloth, set with tea and samosas complete the set. Upon entering, you are greeted by Ravi and Asha, offered a homemade samosa, and then welcomed to sit. This simple act has the effect of transporting the audience away from a theatre, and into Asha’s kitchen.
As the story is told, the display takes the form of a laptop: Showing bio-data for match-making of potential marriage partners, Facebook profiles, videos and photomontage of the family. The effect is clever and suits the immersive quality of the show. The fourth wall is non-existent.
Brimful of Asha is co-presented by the MT Space – a local theatre company that focuses on multiculturalism. One of most interesting aspects of this piece is how plural identities collide within a single Indian-Canadian family. Both characters find themselves clashing with their own identities as much as with each other. When it isn’t geographical, religious, traditional culture related, it’s generational.
The layers of depth beneath the light-hearted comedy left this audience member thinking deeply about the implications of assimilation, identity, progress, the things we have gained, and what we have lost – and how much we are willing to compromise.
The show runs at Centre in the Square until Saturday the 3rd of May, 2014.