Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: (Montreal) A Brimful of Asha

Tradition versus modernism, mother versus son
Step into the Jains’s kitchen for a delightful family fracas
by Sarah Deshaies

Asha Jain has a problem. Her youngest son, Ravi, refuses to get hitched. This dilemma, which is one shared by scores of parents, is magnified by her family’s traditional Indian background, which calls for quick and early nuptials for offspring.

You know of Asha Jain’s problem because that one rebellious son is also a performer, director and playwright. And, horrified by his parents scheming to find him a wife, he’s determined to make sure the world knows about their devious plans.

The result is A Brimful of Asha, the true-life story of how Ravi Jain came to dash his mother’s hopes and dreams. In 2007, his parents, sensing their son was not ready to commit to anyone, planned to railroad Ravi into an arranged romance while he was vacationing in India. 

At Usine C this week, you are invited to hear both Jains tell their sides of the story in a personal setting. Audience members are ushered in without coat or jacket (spectators are asked to remove their jackets at coat check), and seated at tables and chairs. Mother and son are already onstage, with food and drink. Ravi offers up samosas to waiting audience members, and the show begins like any story told over a meal, but with a projector showing family photos high on above.

Jain son, the Toronto founder of Why Not Theatre company, co-wrote and co-stars with Jain mère, who is not a trained performer. Ravi is a fluid actor, while Asha’s unvarnished quips and matter-of-fact rebuttals to her son are a treat. The young people, she says, “think they are the future, but they don’t have any common sense.” 

You start to sympathize with both sides, no matter how many decades you’ve clocked. Asha wants the best for her son, because arranged marriages are how it’s done in her tradition. Besides, once she and her husband are no longer there, how will Ravi maintain his ties to his ancestral home? But Ravi, while open to his parents overtures provided things are on his own terms, thinks it’s just ridiculous to even think of settling down with someone you’ve known for 20 minutes.

At the heart of the show is a great chemistry between the two, and the fact that Asha’s story is a humble but wholly human tale of immigration and adaptation. Their scripted drama still sounds improvised and fresh, despite 120 performances, and counting. The Jains are performing two more shows in Montreal, with Calgary, Vancouver and South Carolina also on the schedule. 

And for newfound fans of Jain: Ravi Jain will direct Nicolas Billon’s Governor-General Award-nominated Iceland at the WildSide Festival in January at the Centaur Theatre.

Run ends November 1.
Read also an interview with Ravi Jain

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