A strong cast anchors the delightfully absurd My Granny the Goldfish
By Anosh Irani. Directed by Lois Anderson. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Revue Stage on Wednesday, April 21. Continues until May 15
In the first act of Anosh Irani’s new play My Granny the Goldfish, the characters and one-liners are so funny that they keep the evening afloat, despite the almost total absence of plot. That’s the theatrical equivalent of walking on water.
In this, the strongest of Irani’s scripts so far—he has also written The Matka King and Bombay Black—a young hypochondriac named Nico lies in a Vancouver hospital, having just had a very real, orange-sized lump removed from his back. Uninvited, Granny arrives from India. She pulls merrily on her mickey of Chivas Regal, but refuses to be labelled an alcoholic. “Alcoholics drink because they hate life,” she says. “I drink because I love alcohol.” We also meet Nico’s alcoholic mom, Farzeen, and his dad, Dara, as they knock back whisky surrounded by the lava-lamp-and-flocked-wallpaper décor of their apartment in Mumbai’s red-light district.
The delight in this script comes from curry-flavoured absurdism. Watching TV coverage of cattle drowning in a flood, Farzeen empathizes with the abandoned animals: “How would you feel if somebody squeezed your tits every day and didn’t give a shit when you were drowning?” Granny wants to be called Charlene, and remembers a girl who she felt didn’t deserve that bubbly name. She was so ugly, Granny says, that “even the dogs were afraid of her. And they were Bombay dogs, you know. They’ve seen a lot.”
Some of the absurdity comes from cultural observations. Noting that Wal-Mart has arrived in India, Granny opines: “Big mistake. The minute you give Indians a chance for a refund, you’re asking for trouble.” And the piss-taking is equal opportunity. Insisting that Granny shouldn’t drink in the hospital, Nico explains: “This is Canada. Rules are like oxygen to these people.”
The air in the theatre becomes thick with laughter, partly thanks to the strong cast. Veena Sood is tremendous as Farzeen, spewing nonsense with deep emotional commitment, and David Adams provides a solid counterbalance as Farzeen’s more phlegmatic husband, the numbers-running Dara. Balinder Johal displays lovely comic timing as Granny; her performance is a bit one-note, but it’s a delightfully mischievous note, so what the heck. Shaker Paleja ably anchors the whole thing as Nico.
Amir Ofek’s set design—especially the Mumbai apartment—helps to create the Indo-absurdist tone. Ofek, who recently relocated to Vancouver from Durham, North Carolina, has quickly established himself as a designer to watch. Carmen Alatorre’s costumes, including Farzeen’s gold-encrusted wardrobe, are playfully well observed. Director Lois Anderson is the mastermind behind this stylistically consistent production, and she keeps it at a rolling boil.
More plot and some heavy dollops of earnestness arrive in Act 2. The plot is welcome, although some elements feel naively fablelike, which is a bit at odds with the earlier irreverence. It’s not as though playwright Irani is unaware of what he’s doing, however. In the second act, he has Farzeen say: “Death. Forgiveness. These are themes. Why are we talking themes?”
Nico’s life takes a direction that doesn’t jibe with Granny’s lesson that he should take things easier. And the play has trouble finding its ending. Still, the script is never less than persuasively charming.
Go see it. Take your granny.
Apr 29, 2010 at 9:29pm
I agree that it was a great script, but I thought the acting was pretty mediocre. In particular, Balinder Johal was very unsteady on opening night. She seemed to me (and my companion independently reached the same conclusion) to frequently be searching for her lines, which ruined her timing. Her performance was very flat, and I thought she was frequently at sea.
Either Mr. Thomas is being very generous with his appraisal, or I saw a different show.