Sheva's RegalThursday, April 22, 2010
The smallish but extremely intimate and refurbished Revue Stage (part of the Arts Club Theatre trio of theatres) across from the Granville Island Stage, was full. This was pleasantly surprising (to me) as the Vancouver Canucks were Playing the Los Angeles Kings yesterday during this première of Anosh Irani’s (left) My Granny The Goldfish.
Let’s get the plot out of the way. Granny (Balinder Johal) leaves her farm near Mumbai to visit her grandson, Nico, in a Vancouver hospital. Her grandson (Shaker Paleja) is a serious hypochondriac who has had a yellowish lump removed from his back. His parents (the mother, Farseen ( Veena Sood) a serious alcoholic and her husband, Dara (David Adams) a supportive one) remain in Mumbai in a contemporary home inside the city’s red light district. A childhood incident has rendered Farseen with a fear and distrust of the Chinese.
Within seconds Rosemary and I were in tears with laughter. If political correctness is important and you are one of those Canadians who do not want to offend you might want to give this play a pass (and be less for it while missing a lot of fun). As soon as the racial (anti Chinese epithets) began to fly I heard a gentleman behind me say to his female companion, “Can they get away with this?” I am glad they can.
I cannot abide with extreme political correctness. Just like Canadian Aboriginals (or is it First Nations Peoples?) can call each other Indians because they are so, but we can’t, is it possible that Indians from India (or is that East Indians?) can call the product of intermarriage between a brown Hindu and a Chinese a Brownese? I believe they can, and as funny as it might sound it just reveals that in spite of it all, in spite of our ignorance of other cultures, in the end we are all much alike. We are alike even if Anosh Irani’s plays (this could be the third of a so-called Mumbai trilogy that began with The Matka King and Bombay Black) take us to exotic places (for us) and put us in homes and situations that are exotic (for us) but perfectly normal for our playwright.
Kudos to costume designer Carmen Alatorre for dressing up the four members of the cast in contemporary clothing and with the presence of cellular phones, pictures on the wall and carry-on luggage made them seem almost (but not quite!) like us.
I am a product of another age and I found various parallels in the play with my own childhood upbringing. Like the Mumbai parents of our handsome young hero Nico (named, improbably after the female singer of the inaugural album of the Velvet Underground) I too lived in a household with an alcoholic (my father). The squabbles within the play rang true for me. They are heart-wrenching but Irani has balanced it all with lots of humor and wonderful dialogue. Except for a few four-letters words here and there I think this is a play I might take my 12-year-old granddaughter to. And definitely this is a play a teenager would enjoy.
While the kindly face and wisdom portrayed by Granny (Balinder Johal) reminded me of my own grandmother I found Farseen, the mother very much like my mother (who didn’t drink. Racism is mostly caused by an ignorance of another culture. My mother a Filipina (of Basque and Spanish heritage) was raised in Manila in the early part of the 20th century when the Chinese were already manifesting economic acumen. And more so, as far as my mother was concerned as we were related to an extremely wealthy Filipino/Chinese family, the Roxas. My mother told me stuff about the Chinese that I believed well into my teenage hood. “Alex the Chinese are the Jews of the Orient. Businessmen travel with their coffin which they place under their bed. They are always ready to die and they don’t want to spend extra money on a coffin.” “No, Alex, you cannot have goldfish in the house. According to the Chinese they bring bad luck.”
My mother told me that the Indians (from India) were called Bombais. She then generalized in a most racist way, “They are hard workers. We call them Bombais because we cannot call them Hindus. The reason is that Hindu is too close to the Tagalog word for fu--, hindut.”
It was in Vancouver, in 1975 when I first began to understand people of other cultures and when I discovered that Canadian Indians looked exactly like Mexican Indians and Argentine Indians and that their skin was not yellow. I began to note the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese (for Peruvians their former Japanese/Peruvian president, Fujimori will always be the Chinito). When I am in doubt I can ignorantly say that if I am not sure then they must be Korean!
So the family that Anosh Irani portrays in his play is a family not much different from my own. When Niko desperately says to his Granny, “I want my family to be normal,” She says, “It is.” Irani has written here a play about normal people in normal situations with just that touch of the exotic. That exotic touch does not make this play not be any less universal.
The actors are all superb. All of them could become standup comedians in their own right yet draw tears from us when serious.
I cannot discern the influence of theatrical directors yet (as I am an amateur) but I must assert here that I am a tad disappointed (I am selfish) that my favourite actress (I hate the term actor)Lois Anderson (right) has decided to direct. I am sure she is a very good director. If this play is so good, she must be partly to blame. But I am glad to see that she will be appearing soon in productions with the Leaky Heaven and with the Western Canada Theatre Company. She can keep directing (my persmission is herby here granted)as long as she keeps acting. I know that soon she will be one of our city's best theatrical directors.
Set designer Amir Ofek found an ingenious solution that transported the audience, back and forth between Mumbai and Vancouver. I will not reveal here how he connected the two places with a Cathay Pacific jet that, unfortunately for Farzeen took her to Hong Kong where she refused to deplane.
My wife Rosemary and I are already looking forward to the Sunday May 2 Revue Stage production of Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craiglist Cantata book by Bill Richardson and music by Veda Hille.
For those of you who never got to read Anosh Irani’s on-the-scene impression of the Mumbai massacre which he wrote for the editorial page of the New York Times, it is here