A Vancouver Guldasta's exploration of home is intimate, generous, and affecting

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      Written and directed by Paneet Singh. A Cultch and Diwali in B.C. presentation of a SACHA production. At the Cultch's Vancity Culture Lab on Thursday, October 3. Continues until October 21

      The personal is political, but the politics get very personal in A Vancouver Guldasta.

      The play is set in June of 1984 in a South Vancouver home, where a family watches the news of the Indian government’s attack on the Golden Temple, the Sikh community’s holiest shrine.

      Guldasta means “bouquet” in Punjabi, and it reflects the diversity of the family’s reactions to the crisis. Teenage daughter Rani wants to join in the protests that have been erupting locally, but her father, Chattar, is terrified that there may be consequences for his home, his business, or his family, including a brother in Amritsar, whom he hasn’t been able to contact since the temple was invaded. His wife Niranjan is loyal but conflicted. Rani’s friend Andy, a Vietnamese refugee who lives in the family’s basement suite with his parents, wants to protect her from the horrors of war.

      Writer-director Paneet Singh first staged this play as a site-specific piece two years ago in an actual Vancouver living room. For this production, Skye Dyken and Lauren Jamie Homeniuk have re-created that sense of intimacy with a loving attention to period details, from the floral upholstery right down to the giant antenna on the family’s cordless phone.

      The idea of home in a larger sense is at the heart of this play. Rani has lived in Canada all her life and only visited Punjab once, as a small child, but she recalls having felt a sense of being at home when she went to the Golden Temple. Andy describes watching the land of his childhood disappear behind him from the boat on which his family fled Vietnam: “Choosing between home and freedom was the hardest choice we ever had to make.” Each character’s experience of displacement and sacrifice informs their reactions to the crisis.

      Singh directs a strong cast, all of whom find a convincing naturalism. Parm Soor is a charismatic Chattar, whether he’s geeking out about Indian classical music or hamming it up in a cheesy TV ad for his restaurant, but there’s also fear and anger beneath his cheerful veneer. As Rani’s mother, Niranjan, Gunjan Kundhal is as contained as her daughter is flippant: just watch Arshdeep Purba’s Rani race through her ritual prayers. And Lou Ticzon’s quiet concern makes Andy credible and sympathetic. The live action is interspersed with video projections of archival news footage, a constant reminder that something very real is at stake for all these characters.

      The play’s motivating spirit is one of generosity: every performance is followed by a talkback. I’m grateful for this uniquely intimate glimpse of Vancouver history.