A Brimful of Asha
Runs until Nov. 15
Citadel Theatre’s Shoctor Theatre
Tickets: Start at $30 plus fees and GST. Call 780-425-1820 or at citadeltheatre.com
There’s something utterly captivating about Asha. She’s clever, confident and subtle with an impish sense of humour and a loving smile that lights up the stage. Dressed in a traditional Indian sari, Asha embodies a quality that steals the show.
A Brimful of Asha, now playing at Citadel Theatre until Nov. 15, is about Toronto producer Ravi Jain’s relationship with his mother, Asha.
Most typical Canadians vent about family pressures over a glass of wine or beer. Instead, co-creators Ravi and Asha have written a 90-minute autobiographical play about his parents' attempts to concoct an arranged marriage to an Indian bride.
It’s January 2007 and Ravi just completed a theatre degree in Athens, Greece. He’s back in Toronto. He wants to postpone marriage for two years to solidify a career in theatre and set up a company.
“What a proud profession for an Indian parent,” mutters Asha. She knows all too well that in Indian culture, a hefty paycheck is a glowing attribute whereas most actors barely eke out a living.
Both parents want Ravi to follow a more traditional route: join the family business, marry, settle down and have children. For Asha, an arranged marriage is about planning for the future. She wants her son to have a connection to India after his parents pass away.
The parents believe a man should be married as soon as he leaves school. Born and raised in Canada, Ravi prefers to take his time and get to know potential partners. Asha thinks the family should arrange a marriage. Ravi wants his parents to stay out of his love life.
This cultural-generational clash reaches a peak after Ravi is invited to conduct theatre workshops in Calcutta. He is thrilled to reconnect with his roots, but becomes highly suspicious after his parents book tickets to Delhi.
Through a series of shrewdly planned ambushes, Ravi is introduced to several potential wives as well as their assorted parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
It almost turns in to a game of cat and mouse with neither side refusing to yield. Throughout the show, there are some hilarious moments and some frustrating ones.
But the great strength of this production is the universal emotions that run through families. Yes, Ravi and Asha bicker. Asha has no qualms about using emotional blackmail to get her way, and Ravi’s good nature explodes into exasperation when trying to find a balance between his choices and parental approval.
But beneath the bickering and failure to listen is a profound love that bonds them as an enduring family unit.
Since the play's inception, Asha and Ravi Jain performed it across the country as a two-hander. However, COVID has shifted theatrical dynamics.
Instead of Asha and Ravi, Edmonton actress Nimet Kanji (Asha) and Vancouver actor Adolyn H. Dar (Ravi) are wearing the mantle of these two iconic characters.
Kanji is a strikingly elegant and assertive figure on stage. One of the most powerful moments in the production is when Asha tells the audience of her arranged marriage to a stranger and life as an immigrant in Canada.
The way Kanji stands, the graceful flutter of a hand and her radiant smile all come together in describing a woman of great courage who moved to a new world to create a family.
Dar is the perfect choice as Ravi, a twenty-something man who bridges his cultural roots and a Canadian self-identity in a quest for harmony. And Dar employs finely honed comedic chops to play multiple characters that provide empathetic yet humorous insights into Indian family life.
This is an excellent evening of storytelling enhanced by a screen that flashes videos, world maps and photos that artfully complement the simple kitchen set.
Although COVID cases are rising in the Edmonton regions, Citadel Theatre staff have taken mandatory safeguards. They ask patrons to wear masks, hand sanitizers are offered and people are seated every second row three seats apart.
Only 100 tickets are sold for any performance in the 700-seat Shoctor Theatre. The night I attended, there were slightly more than 50 people in the audience, leaving a great deal of space between individuals and cohorts.