Text of Broadcast reviews of: SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT and FORGIVENESS a theatrical poem

by Lynn on February 21, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, February 21, 2014 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM; Same Same but Different at Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace until March 8 and Forgiveness a theatrical poem at the Black Box Theatre, at the Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. W. until March 1.

Phil Taylor was the guest host.


Good Friday morning, it’s time for a shot of theatre with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


What up theatre-wise this week?


I was going to review SHREW at the Storefront theatre on Bloor but a water main burst and pumped about seven feet of water into the basement of the theatre destroying costumes, tiles etc. The show I was to see last night was cancelled, but the theatre community rallied as they always do to clean up the damage.  And another venue was found, and SHREW will go on at Theatre Passe Muraille Back space from tonight until March 1. I’ll see it next week.

So I will review two shows that couldn’t be more different.

Same Same But Different by Anita Majumdar at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. It’s about coming to terms with one’s skin colour and the angst of being too dark skinned as a South Asian performer.

And Forgiveness a theatrical poem produced by Modern Times Stage Company at The Black Box Theatre at the Great Hall. This is about the whole examination of forgiveness whether in relationships or in war torn countries.


Lots to think about. Let’s start with Same Same But Different.


Anita Majumdar wrote, choreographed and performs in this piece that she calls a ‘love letter to her mother’ in her programme note. In that note she tells how her mother comforted her (Majumdar) when she was taunted about her skin colour in school and about her accent. They were new immigrants to Canada.

Majumdar attempts to examine shadism, Indian culture, Bollywood films, among others in Same Same But Different.

In Act I Aisha is a Canadian woman of Indian descent who is cast to star in a Bollywood film. This will involve acting and dancing. The director is unseen but we hear him hectoring her about her performance; his frustration with the slowness of the process; and how he bluntly suggests that she lighten her skin. He gives her a small bottle of acid. Apparently that is one means to lighten the skin. Cringeworth.

He also gives the impression that this Bollywood movie is a slapdash affair that’s done quick and cheap, unless of course it’s just par for the course for this belching boor of a director. Yet Aisha puts up with all this, perhaps thinking this is  her big break and she has to.

In Act II we have  different situation. Kabira is a backup singer who thinks she’s getting her big break by doing lead vocals on the songs of a film. She is also fretting because she is getting married in four days and has had her hands hennaed and tries to dry them in a hurry while preparing to sing. Again, there is an unseen voice, this time of a sound engineer who is recording and looping the music. He is irreverent and slapdash towards the task—and disparaging of the talent.


Does the playwright make her case regarding shadism etc.


Alas no. At two hours and forty minutes of running time, I found Same Same But Different to be a bloated blob of irrelevant dialogue that served no purpose except to bog down the proceedings. The unseen but heard director, belches, chomps on food noisily and drops off handed and off putting comments. We get it. He’s a boor, and the point is what? Aisha seems a bit dim as a character, without complexity or depth.

Majumdar has established that shadism goes on in this film industry, but she’s used the frivolous world of Bollywood films to make her point and it just seems to trivialize it instead. Why put up with that? Because you want to be in movies? Silly.

There is a stronger case to make if shadism is a cultural phenomenon, but this slight play doesn’t make it. And the point of Act II is mystifying. In Act II, which is completely different from Act I, Kabira is equally as slight a character. She thinks the gig is for the lead singer but doesn’t realize the job is just as a back up singer.

And the business of getting married in a formal Indian wedding in four days, complete with hennaed hands, seems tacked on for some cultural reference.

I had to read the press release to learn that Aisha in Act I and Kabira in Act II are daughter and mother. Kabira (the mother) had her own troubles when she was younger trying to make it in Bollywood films. In between the whizzing names of Bollywood film titles, actors’ names and song titles, if there is any reference that Aisha and Kabira are related it’s not obvious.


Do the performances save this?


No. Majumdar is an expressive dancer as Aisha but she’s not a strong actor. As Kabira in Act II, she’s a poor singer. As the unseen director in Act I and the unseen sound engineer in Act II, Reza Jacobs is certainly expressive.

Brian Quirt’s direction is little more than face the audience and talk. Not a fun time in the theatre.

If Same Same But Different is a loveletter to Majumdar’s mother, it should be returned to sender. It needs to be given to a ruthless editor with a pair of scissors and a sharp blue pencil.


Ouch!!! Let’s move to Forgiveness a theatrical poem. Are you full of forgiveness for this one?


There is nothing to forgive with this one. It’s terrific.

The idea for this came to Soheil Parsa (Artistic Director of Modern Times Stage Company) and his creative partner Peter Farbridge in 2006. They were in Bosnia   and Herzegovina to set up a theatre project. They met a man who said that when he was walking in his town he often bumped into the soldier who killed his father, and that he had forgiven him. So Parsa and Farbridge wondered how that was possible with some people but not others. Forgiveness a theatrical poem is the result which they wrote with Barbara Simonsen.


How do they go about presenting the theme?


By presenting forgiveness in various guises. The play starts with a microphone suspended from the ceiling to just over a tape recorder that plays various vignettes on forgiveness. It’s quite serious listening to the stories.

Parsa and his gifted company then explore forgiveness from a humourous point of view when an irresponsible man is late 45 minutes for an important date and makes light of it. He tries to deflect the anger of his date by distracting her with some other story. It’s interesting how Parsa and company use humour to tell a serious story.

That is then contrasted to a more sobering point of view, in times of war or political upheaval, when deciding to forgive or not carries a huge weight.

A couple meet after many years. They broke up acrimoniously and there was no closure. Now they meet and old wounds are opened. The exploration of the situation and the freshness of the anger reveals a conversation that was a long time happening.

Forgiveness a theatrical poem is startling not only for what is included, but also for what is not.


What isn’t included?


I think they deliberately don’t answer the original question—how can some people forgive and others don’t. I think it’s fascinating that it’s not answered because it’s not as important as the personal and moral dilemma of pondering do you forgive or don’t you? I love that distinction.


And how do they tell the story?


Some of the stories are told by a tape recorder. Some of the actors—Peter Farbridge and Stavroula Logothettis—re-enacting stories that had people in terrible situations of torture or danger.

A lot of it is choreographed by such companies as Don*Gnu  (Jannik Elkaer Nielsen, Kristoffer Louis Andrup Pedersen) and Dreamwalker Dance (Andrea Nann). The choreography is vibrant, sometimes brutal, energetic and even dangerous.  

One segment took place in an emergency operating room situation. The patient on the gurney is a brutal war criminal from Serbia, or any other war torn country through history. He calls out weakly for water. What does the doctor do?

I thought that of all the pieces this one is really not about forgiveness because the doctor has to treat the patient according to his oath. It does create an interesting dilemma for the audience—do you save this monster or not? Loved thinking about that.

Forgiveness a theatrical poem, is a bracing, compelling, beautifully realized production. As with all Parsa productions, the theme is investigate with sensitivity and produced with a clear-eyed spareness, muscularity, elegantly dance with an in-your-face directness.


Thanks Lynn. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

Same Same But Different plays at Theatre Passe Muraille until March 8.


Forgiveness a theatrical poem plays at the Black Box Theatre (in the Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street W.) until March 1. Tickets: 416-538-0988.

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