Archives for May 2022

The Mountaintop: thrilling peaks (and some valleys)

publicity still for The Mountaintop

Kwesi Ameyaw and Shayna Jones (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

For me, the doorway to this production didn’t open until about halfway through. At that point, it became transcendent — intermittently. By the end, I was moved.

In Katori Hall’s 2009 script, she imagines Martin Luther King Jr. in his motel room on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. The moment a maid named Camae arrives bearing the coffee King has ordered you know she is no ordinary worker: there’s a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder, and the lights in the room flicker. Sure, there’s a storm outside, but we’re in the theatre and cues like this are not accidental. [Read more…]

Lampedusa: More realistic hope might be more robust

promo photo for Lampedusa

Melissa Oei and Robert Garry Haacke in Lampedusa.
(Credit: Javier R. Sotres Photography)

This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but I think Lampedusa is naïve. That said, it’s about important things and it’s getting a handsome production from Pi Theatre.

In his script, playwright Anders Lustgarten weaves together two narratively unrelated monologues. In Leeds, Denise collects debts for a payday loan company. At first, she defends her predatory employer, telling us that the interest rates are there in black-and-white for anybody to read. The implication is that anyone who signs up is an idiot and deserves what they get. But she starts to change her tune when what’s left of England’s welfare state threatens to cut off her disabled mom’s stipend.

Layering on more stress, Denise, who is mixed-race, is often on the receiving end of racial slurs.

The play’s other narrator, Stefano, is a fisherman who lives on the Italian island of Lampedusa, near Africa. For thousands of refugees, it’s the first European landfall, but many don’t make it. Stefano tells us that “The Med is dead” — the Mediterranean can no longer support him as a fisherman, so he has taken a job retrieving refugees — almost always corpses — from the water. He says the drowned bodies he handles feel “like oiled, lumpy rubbish bags sliding through your fingers”.

It seems clear that the play is fundamentally about capitalism, which celebrates individual striving — and selfishness, to the point of cruelty. The disadvantaged and different are dismissed as weak, stupid — and unwelcome. They are less than human. They’re not us. And they cause all the problems. [Read more…]

Himmat: compassionate storytelling — that could go deeper

publicity photo for Himmat

Gavan Cheema and Munish Sharma in Himmat (Photo: Wendy D Photography)

There are significant successes in Gavan Cheema’s Himmat — and there’s room for improvement as this young playwright moves forward. So, yeah, this review is going to be celebratory — and a little teachy. You’ve been warned.

The script’s greatest gift is compassion. The central relationship is between a young woman named Ajit and her dad, Banth, who’s a recovering alcoholic. Banth damaged his family, especially Ajit’s older siblings, but Cheema presents Banth as a whole person, not a demon, and the central subjects that emerge are love and redemption.

As The Georgia Straight’s interview with Cheema reveals, Himmat is a fictionalized autobiography. Like Banth, Cheema’s dad emigrated from the Punjab to the Lower Mainland and worked hard — in lumber mills, as a roofer, and as a truck driver. And, like Banth, he started telling the story of his life to his young adult daughter when he was in the hospital being treated for cancer.

Cheema contextualizes Banth’s addiction as a response to the chronic physical pain that can be the toll of a life of labour, and as a reaction to the stresses of immigration. Banth worked with broken fingers. When he broke his leg, his coworkers left him in the back of a van for the rest of the day and his boss discouraged him from making a claim. When racists verbally assaulted Banth and his new wife Bachani, he cut his hair — a big deal for this Sikh — and then couldn’t sleep.

Cheema balances all of this with marvellously quirky details, which often emerge in the play’s many flashbacks. Banth has an abiding affection for Alvin and the Chipmunks, for instance, because, watching those cartoons, he and his new wife Bachani got their first lessons in English. There’s a running gag about Banth’s obsession with Costco. From his hospital bed, he tells Bachani to buy some batteries there. When she protests that their house is already full of Costco batteries, he insists: “If they’re on sale, just get some.” Especially in his relationship with Ajit, Banth reveals himself as a jovial, loving guy — roughhousing with her and cajoling her to work beside him to repair his truck. [Read more…]

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