Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Letters to My Grandma

(photo by Mateo H. Casis)
Intolerance through the Ages
by Chad Dembski

Anusree Roy is a playwright/actor I have known about for many years from my time in Toronto to her continuing extremely successful career across Canada. However, Teesri's production is the first time her solo play, Letters to My Grandma is performed by another actress.  

The piece starts with a big announcement of an upcoming wedding for the main character in the play and her desire to re-connect with her grandmother.  We learn there is one letter from her grandmother that she has not opened and instantly I became curious what had happened to their relationship.  We are taken back to the war (World War II) where her grandmother struggles to get on a truck that will take her out of the war zone and to a boat.  An instant divide between Hindu and Muslim people is immediately brought to our attention and that this tension is deep and full of mistrust and hatred.  
As a solo performer Sehar Bhojani (recent graduate of the National Theatre School) digs in deep early and establishes great distinction between the characters of herself, her grandmother and her mother.  She uses both voice and fantastic patience in transitioning between characters to help us not get lost between the various timelines.  For we have three worlds; the grandmother in WW II, the playwright in Montreal with her parents (and new boyfriend), and her grandmother in present day back in India.  The Muslim vs Hindu, new world vs old world and generation gap issues are brought up throughout the piece as the writer begins dating a Muslim boy and the grandmother is taken care of in her old age by a Muslim nurse.  The communication between the writer and the grandmother becomes more and more strained as a prejudice from decades ago continues to hang onto the family.
There is great balance of humour and dark drama in this piece but at times it has almost a too well written tone that takes away from the personal voice.  I was engaged by the story, the willingness to allow the grandmother to be both loved by her granddaughter but horribly racist and cruel to her nurse.  This complexity is shown well at times in the piece (the nurse and the grandmother) but at others the theatrical tone is so light you can feel it is a little too pat; it will work out and be okay for everyone.  
Still this is a strong production perfectly situated around the recent Parti Québecois government's shameful Charter that was mentioned in a great post-show speech.  Intolerance will never get us anywhere both politically and personally and ‘Letters to my Grandmother’ helped remind me of my own ignorance and intolerance.  

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