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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