I’m glad I stuck around for the last two episodes of the three-part audio series Rishi & d Douen; they’re so much better than Episode 1.
The story is about a nine-year-old named Rishi, who uses they/them pronouns according to Carousel’s press material. Like their Uncle Papaboisee Mamou, who’s a little crazy, Rishi can have conversations with plants and animals — in English.
The crisis comes when Rishi’s little brother Bhaiya is lured into the forest in Stanley Park by a child-eating creature called a douen. Douens’ feet are on backwards and their faces are all teeth. They are part of Rishi’s Caribbean culture, but apparently they can hop rainforests.
Episode 1 has barely begun before it starts stumbling over its good intentions. “My Uncle Papaboisee Mamou says that Vancouver is named after a colonial stinkbag,” Rishi tells us, sounding a lot like a mouthpiece. “Not the worst stinkbag but a stinkbag nonetheless. Because there are worse colonial stinkbags — like Winstson Churchill: the worst! And John A. Macdonald. Ugh! Don’t even get me started on Christopher Columbus! But anyways …”
The problem isn’t the politics, it’s the baldness of the polemics, which serve no narrative function. In subsequent episodes, when points of view about colonialism are more integrated, the story and its themes become vastly more engaging.
And Episode 1 is a mess of tangents.
Then, in Episodes 2 and 3, the series both grounds itself and gets charmingly trippy. Rishi and their Ma have serious conversations about mental health and cultural differences. In a dream, Uncle Papaboisee shows up riding a centipede whose feet are all in different dimensions. Touching one, Rishi spins into space.
The climax, in which Rishi meets Dwayne d Douen, is both hilarious — “What? I have to eat him, Rishi. I’m a douen. It’s what I do” — and wise.
But good luck getting yourself — or your kids — past Episode 1.
Rishi and d Douen is produced by Rumble Theatre and presented by Carousel Theatre for Young People. You can check out further credits and buy tickets here. The makers recommend Rishi and d Douen for kids 6 and up. Go older, I say. Maybe 9.