by Lynn on November 2, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anosh Irani

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Lindsay Dagger Junkin

Sound and composition by Waleed Abdulhamid

Cast: John Chou

Cyrus Faird

Huse Madhavji

Chanakya Mukherjee

Gugun Deep Singh

Sugith Varughese

Tahirih Vejdani

Farid Yazdani

A rocky, emotional immigrant story told from the context of a lowly chicken shop in Bombay, India and a cricket team in Vancouver that’s not doing too well.

The Story. Hasan is eighteen and works in a chicken store in a poor part of Bombay,  slaughtering and selling chickens for Baba who owns the store. Hasan is in love with Haseena who is studying for medical school but is too shy and awkward to tell her. Eventually Hasan gets himself in gear and is able to talk to Haseena and express his feelings. He even stands up to a neighbourhood thug biker who is coming on to her. Hasan wants to impress Haseena and one way is through cricket because he’s good at it.

On the other side of the world, in Vancouver, a cricket team made up of people from India play together but they continue to lose. They need a good player. Abdul plays on the team. His brother is Hasan and moves are made to bring Hasan over to play and help the team win.

The Production. Hasan played as sweet if dim by Chanakya Mukherjee, flicks away the flies that are bothering him as he sells the chickens. He wears a bloody apron because he slaughters the chickens and also sells them at the counter.  He confides in Baba (a laid-back Huse Madhavji) that he is enamoured of Haseena (perhaps a too mature Tahirih Vejdani). Baba’s sole purpose in the play is to be someone that Hasan can complain to and confide in. He spends the play leisurely sitting in a chair in the shop, reading a newspaper and lobbing jokes and smarmy replies.

Director Philip Akin moves the characters naturally so that they don’t hold static positions: in a chair reading, behind the counter whining, etc.

 Like any accomplished cast this group negotiates the space with dexterity and ease. Director Philip Akin establishes the camaraderie of the cricket team, and also creates movement that shows them occasionally to be clumsy—tripping over their gym bags. Sam (John Chou) is the only Chinese person on the team and has a good-buddy relationship with Ram (Farid Yazdani). They have a special handshake and perhaps even a chest thump. They are young, funny and enjoy ribbing each other. Both John Chou and Farid Yazdani have a boyishness and charm. Girls and fun are their aims in life. Cricket is an afterthought but they keep showing up and trying. Love that. Abdul (a quiet but interesting performance from Gugun Deep Singh) is an accomplished player and is the brooder of the group. He feels ‘other’ and left out. He says little. His main nemesis is Doc (a tightly wound and proud Cyrus Faird).

Doc is a doctor who has lived in Vancouver for years but is keenly aware of his immigrant story. He has an unhappy past when he came to Canada and endured racism and is proud of his Zoroastrian background. Doc is a bigot. He hates Muslims of which Abdul is one. Randy (a very courtly, calming Sugith Varughese) is the captain of the team and has to keep the peace between Doc the hot-head and Abdul who is being brow-beaten. It’s to their credit and Anosh Irani that that knot in your stomach is so tight

It’s an interesting layer that writer Anosh Irani has inserted in his play—that within the immigrant group are racists who hate others in the group because they are the wrong religion. So not only does this small group of men have to contend with the racists in the city who might not want them there, but also they must contend with the racists within their culture. Eye-opening.

It’s interesting to see how Hasan comes into his own, getting more confidence because he will go to Canada to help his brother and prove worthy of Haseena. Haseena has a lovely exchange with Hasan before he goes. She is happy he is good at cricket, but she says, “I want you to want more.” Wow.  It’s also interesting to see how the team must adjust and react to Doc’s racism and how Doc has to deal with the truth of it.

Comment. Anosh Irani carefully builds his narrative so that the ending is carefully established. He does inject a small but powerful bit of information regarding Haseena that I think is not earned because it comes from nowhere,  but it sure adds more complication. I liked The Men In White a lot. We should never tire of hearing and learning from the immigrant story.

Produced by Factory Theatre.

Began: Oct. 13, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 4, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours approx.        

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