Saturday 30 March 2019

The Orchard seeks to reconcile B.C. racial history with politics and the marketplace
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)

Ambitious. That is the salient, compelling quality behind Sarena Parmar’s script The Orchard (After Chekhov). With a panoply of characters as diverse as OK's countless fruits, Parmar harvests decades of Canadian immigrant history to tell her tale. 

Timely, it's another cut at Eurocentric patriarchy, greed, eco-villainy, racism -- but also good intentions that sometimes will only rot on the vine.

The scene is set in the OK Valley of B.C. around the time of Premier Dave Barrett’s Agricultural Land Freeze. A 3rd generation of the Basran family is struggling to make their hardscrabble orchard turn a decent profit for once. Its modest yield of cherries and peaches are dependent on bees and Spring blossoms -- which are currently frost-bitten. 

Eldest daughter Loveleen (Laara Sadiq) has just returned from a five year escapist junket back to India after the drowning death of her 7-year-old son Griesha and her husband's passing shortly thereafter. She abandoned 12-year-old daughter Annie (Risha Nanda) to be fetched up by brother Gurjit (Munish Sharma) and cousin Barminder (Adele Noronha) plus her dad, Baba-ji (Parm Soor).

Sister Loveleen (Lara Sadiq) returns from self-sought exile in India after five years to mediate between brother Gus (Munish Sharma) who is a die-hard dirt farmer and childhood chum Michael (Andrew Cownden) who's become a wealthy if shady land speculator in the Okanagan Valley. 
Photo credit David Cooper
Now she's returned after daughter chased her down in Mumbai. She'd been shacked up with a Russian hustler who since has taken sick. Now from him she escapes, too, trying to make sense of her world(s), her gods, her karma.

The stage is a ginormous OK farmhouse (Marshall McMahen, set designer) where everyone seems to have a room, and all the rooms have ghosts after 50 years of Basran blood, sweat and tears. Enter a childhood chum, Michael (Andrew Cownden), a nerdy overachiever.

Michael hustles real estate and has googly eyes plus a puffy red face. He slavers over Loveleen, urging her to convert the orchard into an RV park, ALR be damned. Fruit farming is poor business, he argues. His big worry is that the Pandosy brothers will snatch up the land if it goes to auction in four months — which it will if the Basrans have a krappy harvest and must forfeit title to the bank.

Loveleen (Lara Sadiq) is close to her cousin Bartender (Adele Noronha) who is the family's true grit -- chief homemaker as well as mentor for Loveleen's daughter Annie. Loveleen for her part is happier in silks than denims and that drives her to make sketchy and dubious choices on behalf of the family. 
Photo credit David Cooper

There is, of course, a waft of inevitability that blows through the house this breezy Spring. Loveleen has come home to run the farm business but she's enjoying socializing with friends and parading about in her glittery lehengas and saris.

Other alienated outsiders playwright Parmar pops into view : an indigenous rodeo cowgirl named Charlie (Andrea Menard), a Japanese gofer named Yebi (Kai Bradbury) who's all thumbs and klutz plus his sister? cousin? friend? Donna (Yoshie Bancroft) who is trying to suppress her history and dress up like Little Orphan Annie. She spends most of her time flirting with boy toy Yash (Praneet Akilla) whom Loveleen brought back from India. Best character bit of all is aging longtime farmer friend Paul : Tom McBeath's narcoleptic turn in omnipresent bib overalls is pure delight.  

As noted up top, this is ambitious drama that tries to give outsiders a glimpse of what challenges non-whites faced both before and after Trudeau pere cranked open the country's immigration flood-gates back in the 70's. Are Loveleen's roots truly back in India after all? Is love of dirt enough to hold a family together when filthy lucre looms ever larger on the OK real estate horizon? Nadeem Phillip as the communist dreamer poet aching to take everyone back to the "new world" of modern India focuses the issues at play with f 1.4 acuity.

The Orchard is Chekhovian for certain in its detailing of life's characters and in stitching together the intricate interconnected webs that come with them. Playwright Parmar will no doubt have many more stories to tell us. 

Despite her 13 characters on stage, meanwhile, most of the audience at the final preview performance Wednesday afternoon found the script demanded a tighter, more intimate room : horseshoe staging at the BMO a la the Onegin show would have worked better. As well, probably 15-20 minutes of staging and dialogue could be cut, particularly in the painful partings brought on in the closing scenes. 

Those reservations aside, some of Vancouver's best South Asian acting talent populates this performance. Each delivers their characters' idiosyncrasies with energy and insight. As a somewhat-too-long trip down memory lane, The Orchard is nevertheless filled with empathy and intuition that touch the heart. Its set and lights and soundscape enhance the show's moods richly.

Particulars :  Produced by Arts Club Theatre.  At Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.  On until April 21, 2019.  Run-time 130 minutes including intermission.  Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning 604.687.1644.  

Production team :  Jovanni Sy (Director), Marshall McMahen (Set Designer), Barbara Clayden (Costume Designer), Sophie Tang (Lighting Designer), Joelysa Pankanea (Sound Designer), Angela Beaulieu (Stage Manager), Peter Jotkus (Assistant Stage Manager), Gavan Cheema (Assistant Director & Cultural Creative Consultant), Stephanie Wong (Assistant Set Designer), June Fukumura (Japanese Dialect Coach), Danny Virtue (Lasso Coach), Guillermo Verdecchia(Dramaturg), Gurpreet Chana (Punjabi Translator), Aya Ogawa (Japanese Translator)

Performers :  Praneet Akillia (Yash), Yoshié Bancroft (Donna/Boy), Kai Bradbury (Yebi), Andrew Cownden (Michael), Tom McBeath (Paul), Andrea Menard (Charlie), Risha Nanda (Annie), Adele Noronha (Barminder), Nadeem Phillip (Peter),Laara Sadiq (Loveleen), Munish Sharma (Gurjit), Parm Soor (Baba-ji Kesur)

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