At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.
Written, Choreographed and Performed by Anita Majumdar
Directed by Brian Quirt
Set and costumes by Jackie Chau
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Sound and projections by Christopher Stanton
Anita Majumdar has written vividly about the sexual pressures on teens in this bold, unsettling play. She creates a victim of bullying who does not cave and she creates a bully with whom we have compassion. Stunning.
The Story. Nazneen (Naz for short) is a high school student of South Asian-Canadian descent who is going through a rough time. She is bullied by a blonde, blue-eyed student named Candice. Nazneen’s boyfriend is Lucky and they are devoted until Candice’s boyfriend Buddy, puts Nazneen in a compromising position and makes Candice jealous. Lucky hears about it but dumps Nazneen without giving her a chance to tell her side of the story. (God help us from people who hear only one side of a two sided story and make their judgements on that one side). This leaves Nazneen desolate. Through all her travails, Nazneen has her classical Indian dancing. She is a member of a troupe and is noted for her abilities in this kind of dance. After graduation she is asked to dance at Buddy and Candice’s wedding and now Nazneen feels she can get even.
There is also the story of Candice as she revels in her popularity. She creates videos for teen women about how to put on makeup and other aspects of beauty she feels she knows about.
The Production. actress/dancer/playwright, Anita Majumdar has written an unsettling and important play because she so captures the worlds of the bullied and the bully. Brian Quirt’s sensitive direction drives Majumdar to illuminate Nazneen’s toughness in the face of adversity and Candice’s neediness when things don’t go as expected.
Majumdar is trained in Kathak and other forms of dance. There is drive and muscularity when Majumdar dances as Nazneen. She is both free to let her creativity flow, and also compelled by her anger to let out her fury at the situation she is in. Dance gives Nazneen empowerment. The solid stamp of a foot and the placement of the fingers are precise, deliberate and evocative. Majumdar plays Nazneen with a steely resolve to get even mixed with a longing for her boyfriend to come back. It’s a powerful mix of emotions.
As powerful as the portrayal of Nazneen is, the portrayal of Candice is just as gripping. A video image of a close-up of Majumdar’s eyes is projected on the back of the stage. She drops blue contact lenses onto her dark eyes. Next comes a blonde wig. Then she applies a white base foundation. As she turns into Candace the voice becomes higher and with an upspeak. At this point Candace’s laptop is open and recording her various makeup tips as she applies blusher, eye-liner and other applications that transform her into a young, pampered, entitled teen that couldn’t be any further away from Nazneen’s reality.
But Candace has a desperation about her. She knows Buddy is her boyfriend, but she also knows he’s not faithful and she’s anxious about that. She needs to one-up Nazneen and she feels she can do it with Buddy. There is a sharpness, a bite to Candace’s delivery only it’s with regards to her situation, being attached to Buddy, no matter how tenuous. She is not as focused at getting even with Nazneen, but she does have a nasty streak that comes of disappointment.
Both performances are stunning. Anita Majumdar shows the toughness and vulnerability of both young women. She also does that rare thing in the theatre, she presents a victim of bullying who will not give in to the bully; and she shows a bully in such a way that the audience has compassion for her. This is a strong, fair-minded playwright.
Comment. Boys with Cars is a play that focuses on the issues facing teens today: sexual pressure; male power over young women who just want to please them; accepting that the young men they want and like will call them ‘bitches’ and treat them like possessions; dealing with bullies; being bullied; being a bully.
In the talk-back with her teenaged audience (at the matinee I saw), Majumdar said that she wrote the play as a kind of penance for her guilt. When she went to high school in Port Moody, British Columbia (where she has set the play), she was one of three ‘brown’ students. She did feel the sting of racism and bullying. But she also witnessed bullying done to other students and she did nothing to prevent that and she could have. Writing and performing Boys with Cars is Anita Majumdar’s way of doing penance for that lapse. Terrific play and performance. And important.
Presented by Young People’s Theatre.
Opened: March 23, 2017.
Closes: April 1, 2017.
Running Time: 75 minutes.