by Lynn on July 22, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery District, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Ravi Jain
Inspired by The Mahabharata
Directed by Jenny Koons
Music by Gurpreet Chana
Sound by Nicholas Murray
Projections by David Leclerc
Set and Costumes by Ken MacKenzie
Lighting by C.J. Astronomo and Kimberly Purtell

An important story about displacement and salvation told vividly by Ravi Jain and his creative team, that stops short of its intention.

The Story and Production.

Ravi Jain, theatre creator extraordinaire, got the idea for this production after reading an article that changed his life. The article said that because of climate change about 200,000 people in one country (he mentioned Bangladesh) would be displaced with no where to go.

This concerned him. Ravi Jain is a man of the world, committed to its betterment through theatre. So he devised a story, inspired by the huge Indian epic poem, The Mahabharata, to illuminate his thesis. Instead of a program, each audience member was given a ‘post card’ of a smiling young boy holding a sign that said: “To the rest of the world please could you prepare a place for my country to stay.” The boy stands in front of a body of water that is filthy, polluted with garbage and junk. It’s a pretty powerful picture.

The audience sits on either side of the playing area which is a bank of ‘sand’ composed of rust coloured small rubber pellets. Two moveable screens are positioned on either end of the space.

Ravi Jain enters and stands barefoot in the ‘sand.’ He is dressed in a beautiful tailored Indian coat underneath which are fitted pants that look like bandage wrappings.

He tells the ancient story of two cousins, one a future king and the other a valiant warrior. The future king is ruthless, manipulative and self absorbed. His cousin is loyal, trusting and obedient. The future king sets his cousin a task to cross over a river knowing the current is strong and success in not possible. The warrior cousin goes in the water and drowns.

The whole story-telling is movement based. Jain wears a mask and head covering to indicate the classical basis of the story. He is a wonderful, compelling performer and story-teller. The screens move back and forth along the space. The lighting by C.J. Astronomo and Kimberly Purtell of rippling water etc. is some of the most evocative I have ever seen.

Jain asks the question: What if you are on land and see someone in the water?” “What if you are in the water and see someone on land.” What is unsaid is, “Would you save the person in the water?” It’s an important question and for the purposes of this piece it needs to be vocalized in order to bring us back to the original thesis—what do we do with all those displaced people due to climate change?

Then Jain says to us to find someone on the other side of the theatre and look at in their eyes. I pick the person in my seat in the same row across from me. I stare in her eyes. Then Jain asks us all to get close and to move into the playing space and again look in that person’s eyes. The problem here is that the person I an looking at is not looking at me but the person beside me. I still look in her eyes. Jain says that if we don’t have a partner to find anyone. I still look at the person I have picked.

Several minutes of this and Jain says to stay as long as we like. Then we hear a door close. It is Jain leaving the space and the performance. No bow, but then the people in the space begin to talk to each other—if they have a partner of course, or perhaps not.

Comment: As always with a Ravi Jain creation it is provocative, thoughtful and intriguing. In the case of Gimme Shelter Jain does allude to the important question of what would we do if we were required to help people in need by giving us the card with the boy on it. My problem with the piece is that Jain does not go far enough and ask us would we save the person in the water, if we were on shore. Or if we were in the water, would we ask for help of the person on shore. Making eye contact with someone across from us, and then in front of us does not forward the thesis. It detracts from it. And leaving us there is disappointing after such a strong beginning.

Still, I would recommend any production created/performed/written by Ravi Jain and I recommend this one too.

Produced by Why Not Theatre commissioned by the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

: July 18-25, 2015
Cast: 1 talented fellah
Running Time: 70 minutes

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