by Lynn on February 9, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer


Bilail Baig
Photo: Tanja Tiziana






At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Bilal Baig

Directed by Brendan Healy

Set and costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by C.J. Astronomo

Sound and music by Richard Feren

Cast: Shelly Antony

Omar Alex Khan

Qasim Khan

Matt Nethersole

Ellora Patnaik

A bold debut play by Bilal Baig about being true to oneself, ones culture and ones religion and balancing all that with the world one lives in.

The Story. Acha Bacha by Bilal Baig is about a gay man named Zaya who tries to be true to his beliefs as a Muslim, his relationship with his lover Salim yet hiding that relationship from his traditional mother.

I wish there was a glossary of Erdu terms such as “Acha Bacha”. I Googled it. It means “good kid.” Zaya has long been told by his mother to be a ‘good kid.’ We surmise from the play that there have been things in his life growing up that might not have earned that phrase.

Zaya and his lover Salim enjoy a loving relationship but there is trouble on the horizon.

Zaya has not been forthcoming about the relationship with his mother, who expects Zaya to marry a woman one day. Salim is a devout Muslim and is leaving Canada on a trip to Pakistan with his mother, a pilgrimage home.  Zaya tries to be observant but he is not as committed as Salim is. It’s Ramadan and Salim is fasting while Zaya is only half-hearted about it.  And there are ghosts from Zaya’s past that he is trying to resolve, so he is one conflicted character.

The Production.  Bilal Baig  is covering a lot of important ground in his play. To quote the press release: “Acha Bacha boldly explores the intersections between queerness, gender identity and Islamic culture in the Pakistani diaspora.”  Part of that boldness is to use both English and Erdu to tell the story. For example, when Salim talks to Zaya, it’s in a mix of English and Erdu but because the dialogue is so clear we get a sense of what is being said in Erdu.

Zaya’s mother talks to him almost totally in Erdu but he replies to her in English so we get what she is saying, from the tone of voice of Ellora Patnaik as Ma. There is sarcasm and very precise body language that lets everybody know what she thinks of her son’s goings on.

And you get a keen sense in the play of the delicate balance that Zaya tries to maintain to keep up appearances, be loving to his partner Salim but still keeping his presence secret, even though Salim is more confident in his own identity. He is a devout Muslim and confident to be who he is—a man who wears makeup and women’s clothing in public. The person with real issues is Zaya—who is he? What does he believe in?

Interesting questions.

Director Brendan Healy and designer Joanne Yu have imagined a world that is beautiful,  rich-looking yet simple and mysterious.   Joanna Yu has floor to ceiling browny-orangy drapes that look almost velvet on three sides of the stage that suggest sumptuousness and also mystery.

It’s as if that world is closed off, hiding something—as Zaya is trying to hide his identity and relationship from his mother and others.  It’s beautifully directed with subtlety and simplicity by Brendan Healy. He knows how to establish the most intricate of relationships with clarity.

Qasim Khan plays Zaya with a controlled urgency.  He loves Salim but is desperate to keep his identity secret from his mother, even though Salim has met her.  As Salim, Matt Nethersole is bolder, flamboyant and complex as a devout Muslim.  Nethersole strongly plays the confidence of a man who truly knows who he is and is unafraid to show that confidence.  Qasim Khan and Matt Nethersole give beautiful, measured performances.

Comment. Playwright Bilal Baig has introduced us to a new, strong voice that illuminates a rich culture and navigates the queer world with confidence.

Co-produced by Theatre Passe Muraille and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Opened: Feb. 6, 2018.

Closes: Feb. 18, 2018.

Running Time: 80 minutes, approx.

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