Wednesday 22 February 2017

The Men In White chirps about cricket, life
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : The Men In White by Anosh Irani is a "tale of two cities" and a whole lot more, including the game of cricket. On a single stage the two worlds of (old) Bombay and (new) Vancouver line up side-by-side. Each side deals with slaughter : the right, a chicken butchery shoppe in India, the left, a local cricket team's locker room off Brockton Oval -- where opposing teams religiously knacker them.

How these worlds intersect is through elder brother Abdul's (Shekhar Paleja) dream to bring hotshot cricketer younger brother Hasan (Nadeem Phillip) over to Vancouver to help notch up the odd cricket pitch victory for his multi-ethnic club.

The "whole lot more" that North Vancouver's Irani attempts to draw into his script involves riffs on frat-boy cameraderie, sexism, karma, patriarchy, religious tribal wars, immigration conflicts, schoolyard bullying, local Mumbai gang violence -- love, loyalty, fate, loss -- all this amidst endless banter about the wizardry and wicketry that are what the game of cricket is all about.  

How it's all put together :  When Scott Fitzgerald in Gatsby wrote of "the fresh green breast of the new world", he could easily have had Vancouver's Stanley Park in mind. But for Abdul, the new world isn't all it was cracked up to be. He works in a restaurant and feels his boss, who sponsored him, is a slavedriver who "owns" him due to faked immigration papers five years back. Thus no recourse thru Human Rights or Worksafe or Immigration. So he seeks solace and release playing his native game of cricket. In the locker room, meanwhile, the homegrown tensions of Hindu-Muslim religious conflict re-emerge between two team members : no heaven on earth either at home between them, nor here.

Back in Bombay 18-year-old Hasan, surrogate son of his boss Baba (Sanjay Talwar), dreams of escaping the chicken hatchetry and becoming a cricket star. Fat chance. He doesn't even own a cricket bat he's so poor. But he's lucky. He's been smitten by 16-year-old eager student Haseena (Risha Nanda), a regular customer at the chicken shoppe who dreams earnestly of a medical career. The two of them look at travel sites about Vancouver on TripAdviser and drool about its lush greenery + blue washes at shore's edge.

What the show brings to the stage : Dreams. Hopes. Expectations. Reality bites. Disappointments. New world. Old world. Same old the world over ? Baba, who clearly adores Hasan, tells him life as he was taught to expect it was less complicated, less filled with wonder or pining & aching for something better. "In our day we just did our work, we ate, and we died," he says with no regret or irony.

The show toggles between the split-stage action in the B.C. locker room -vs- life in inner-city India. The script is ambitious. Trying to embrace social customs over decades across 12,000 km of linear space, it demands perhaps more focus on its social messaging than a typical audience might be comfortable trying to follow. Still one has to admire Irani's attempts to reconcile both the generation gaps at play back in India with the cultural divides that exist here in Canada. Over the years our home and native land -- Irani seems to be saying -- has often tried to masque the reality of racial and cultural bigotry and prejudice here by huckstering a kind of smug multicultural self-congratulation. Which was so recently assassinated in Quebec City nevermind Atawaspiskat or Highway 16.

Production values that shine : Regardless of the over-reach of the script in toto, there is much to recommend here. Amir Ofek's set matches in excellence previous high water marks he established. The contrasts between the chicken butchery contiguous to the antiseptic all-white locker room with no dividing wall were rich and compelling. Murray Price's soundscape with its wraparound background noise effects coupled with its ethnic -plus- electro-pop tunery was choice. 

Acting pin-spots : Clearly one of the most attractive acting bits occurred between the ironically irascible Sanjay Talway as Baba and Hasan. For his part, Nadeem Phillip as Hasan displayed terrific character presence and continuity and idiosyncrasy with all his facial contortions and hand gestures. 

Most successful sustained interchanges were between Hasan and Risha Nanda as Haseena : lots of delicious flirtation between them in Act 2 that was utterly endearing and convincing. 

Personally I loved the explosive verbal fisticuffs between Doc (Munish Sharma) and Abdul as the pain of the 90's India murderous riots between Hindu and Muslim in that country were played out anew. 

And as the ever-kidding Sam, the team's token Chinese-Canadian, Raugi Yu provided good comic relief, as did Anousha Alamanian as Ram with his omnipresent fist-bumps and finger explosions. 

Who gonna like : This is a work-in-progress script with much of substance to work with. Without resorting to Plot spoiler! mode, let me suggest the end change with the final cricket game occurring before Hasan's trip to the Mumbai airport to join his brother in Vancouver. That would obviate the need for the overdramatic climax resorted to.

And while this is a piece whose individual parts exceed in impact what the whole provides, the themes are lively and timely and engaging, particularly given the border-hopping into Emerson, Manitoba these days by people from "away" attempting to escape USA Homeland Security.

Personal note : In my Canadian citizenship class two years back there were 82 of us. From 23 different countries of birth, almost a different country each 3rd seat along. There were eight Caucasians, five of them from one Danish family. Only three native English-speakers. Thus I felt a personal connection with Anosh Irani's play that was deep and gripping and tear-bringing. Others may not come from such a place. But there is much they can take away from this play. Much to champion about this home of Canada of ours.

Particulars :  Produced by Arts Club Theatre in its premiere performances.  At the ACT Granville Island Stage. On until March 11,2017. Run-time 140 minutes, including 20 minute intermission. Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning ACBO @ 604.67.1644.  

Production team :  Director / Dramaturg Rachel Ditor.  Set Designer Amir Ofek.  Lighting Designer Adrian Muir.  Sound Designer Murray Price.  Costume Designer Amy McDougall.  Stage Manager Caryn Fehr.  Assistant Stage Manager Ronaye Haynes.  Assistant to the Director Gavan Cheema.

Performers :  Anousha Alamian (Ram).  Risha Nanda (Haseena).  Shekhar Paleja (Abdul).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Tony).  Nadeem Phillip (Hasan).  Munish Sharma (Doc).  Parm Soor (Randi).  Sanjay Talwar (Baba).  Raugi Yu (Sam). 



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