A Brimful of Asha is a charmer

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By Asha Jain and Ravi Jain. A Why Not Theatre production, presented by the Arts Club Theatre Company and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. At the Revue Stage on Thursday, January 16. Continues until February 8

Mother-and-son performers Asha and Ravi Jain clearly delight one another. This is so charming that, for most of their 90-minute two-hander, they delighted me too.

A Brimful of Asha, which the pair cowrote, recounts a true story from 2007. Ravi, who is a Toronto theatre artist, was invited to Calcutta to lead a performance workshop. He decided to take advantage of the opportunity and travel around India. His parents decided to take advantage of the opportunity and arrange a marriage for their going-stale-on-the-shelf 27-year-old son. In A Brimful of Asha, Ravi and his mom debate the rights and wrongs of this scenario and invite the audience to judge.

On-stage, Ravi and Asha are a kind of South Asian–Canadian standup team. Ravi is the straight man who sets the normative line and Asha is the clever clown who interrupts and undercuts. When Ravi introduces himself as a theatre artist, she butts in: “Theatre. What a proud profession for Indian parents.” And when it’s her turn to introduce herself, she explains, “I am a dedicated housewife and abused mother.”

As Asha spits out her truth with ingenuous force and Ravi reacts with exasperation, they immediately get the audience rolling—with a kind of laughter that feeds on both recognition and exaggeration. When we hear Asha say, “Your happiness is my happiness,” we know the throw-down is coming: “And my happiness should be your happiness.” But cultural differences magnify and embellish intergenerational struggles in the Jain household. Asha grew to adulthood in India, and Ravi in Canada. So when he declares in a fit of pique that his parents should consider him dead, we get added spin in Asha’s reply: “We can’t consider you dead until you get married.”

The show is touching, too—especially as Asha recounts the loneliness of her early experience as an immigrant, and as the angered mother and son hurt each another.

A Brimful of Asha doesn’t entirely sustain itself, however. Asha is not a trained performer and there’s a giddy kind of subversion in watching the amateur undercut the pro. But there’s a downside to her lack of chops: as she speaks in her second language, her delivery seldom varies, and in the preview performance I attended, I was often aware that she was reciting her lines.

In the bigger picture, the story gets repetitive and it’s almost always recounted, as opposed to enacted, which also gets a little dull.

Still, go see A Brimful of Asha. You’ll see yourself in these two, and you’ll really, really like them.

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