Take d Milk, Nah?: Yeah, take d milk

Take d Milk, Nah? is playing at The Cultch.

According to Jivesh Parasram, Hindu cows don’t say moo.
He’s in a position to know.

I’ve been so bored in the theatre so often lately that I’ve been starting to wonder if I’m dead inside. That’s why I’m feeling so high right now:  Take d Milk, Nah? kept me consistently stimulated and engaged.

From the get-go, solo performer Jivesh Parasram is Mr. Charmingpants. (It probably helped that, on opening night, he kicked a footlight out of place on his first entrance and dealt adroitly with the embarrassment.)

Jiv, as he calls himself throughout the show — I’ll use it as his character name — has set himself a paradoxical task: performing an identity play that questions the notion of identity. As a Hindu, he understands that identity is an illusion but, as a Caribbean South Asian guy who grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where there was no place for him in the black/white binary, he also knows that the illusory world we inhabit has dangerously sharp edges.

The text, which Parasram co-created with director Tom Arthur Davis and assistant director Graham Isador, is associative, witty, and sometimes provocative.

It takes the mickey out of identity plays: they are “especially popular in Canada,” Jiv says. “Or, if not popular, common.” There’s always snow.

For miseducated white guys like me, Take d Milk, Nah? offers corrective information, which is bracing in that “Wake up, asshole!” kind of way. I knew that Winston Churchill had many dark sides, for instance, but I had no idea that he said, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.” And I didn’t know about the role that indentured servitude played in the South Asian diaspora.

But it’s the exploration of the double-edged nature of identity that’s the most fundamental. Jiv refers to identity as a raft: it provides safety, but there’s limited room on it. Choosing our raft, we push others into the sea.

Reflecting on why I found Take d Milk, Nah? so satisfying, I realize that all of its ideas are variations on themes that are already more or less familiar to me — but the theatricality of their explication allows them to land in the senses in satisfying ways.

There’s a passage that I’m dying to tell you about but I can’t give away. Let me just say that, at one point, I felt distanced from other audience members and, at another, I felt close to them. Both moments were surprisingly, viscerally moving.

Jiv fills the stage with incense. He lights candles and lamps. He tells a story about having his hands inside a cow, trying to help her give birth. And, while he’s doing all this, he executes his own raucous sound cues, using a laptop.

The fabric walls of Anahita Dehbonehie’s set are saturated marigold and persimmon. Rebecca Vandevelde’s lighting is beautifully precise and sometimes breathtakingly dramatic.

Take d Milk, Nah? doesn’t transcend its genre: it remains firmly and correctively an identity play. It’s an argument. But, like many of the most alluring scripts being written about identity these days — I’m thinking of Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury and Kim Senklip Harvey’s Kamloopa, for instance — it also offers an embodied experience.

A little more than halfway through the performance, Jiv says, “For the rest of the show you can just enter my mind and chill the fuck out.” Go there.

TAKE D MILK, NAH? Created by Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis, and Graham Isador. Directed by Tom Arthur Davis. A Rumble Theatre and Pandemic Theatre production, presented with Diwali in BC, in association with Neworld Theatre. At the Vancity Culture Lab on Thursday, October 17. Continues until October 26. Tickets.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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