Simple yet Powerful

By Singapore Straits Times

This 1997 New Zealand production first warmed hearts in Singapore last year, when it played to sold-out audiences and received rave reviews.

A small gem of theatre just over an hour long, Tuesday’s performance similarly charmed the audience with its simply told one-man show.

Gobi Krishna and his wife Zina are Indian immigrants who own a New Zealand “dairy” , the Kiwi equivalent to a provision shop. As actor and playwright Jacob Rajan explains in his introductory folk song on guitar, the couple work from 5am to midnight, their baby Apu plays on the floor and “they keep their dreams on the shelf.”

Gobi bends over backwards to provide friendly small talk and diligent service to his patrons while Zina, who only wants to move back to India, is delightfully grumpy.

Their bickering makes for most of the jokes, with Gobi at one point forbidding his wife from stealing any more Mentos from his carefully watched stock.

Rajan plays all the characters by switching masks as well as accents, postures and body language. He transitions seamlessly from earnest Gobi to surly Zina and later to the highly stylised Shah Jahan, the Moghul emperor whose story of his love for Mumtaz Mahal and the Taj Mahal is interwoven with that of the dairy.

This is no small feat. Rajan is a charismatic force on stage, who at one point pushes a character and suddenly, with a flick of the mask, is the other stumbling to the floor.

The production is at times cute and then serious,  a hodgepodge of slapstick and pathos that mostly works. Moments like Rajan’s tongue in cheek singing or Zina’s reenactment of an Indian legend with vegetables and candy feel like Sesame Street, but the script’s insightful dialogue and subtext of unlikely love make for more adult fare.

The twining of the two stories – romantic love worthy of the Taj Mahal versus the begrudging love of an arranged marriage that blooms in the dairy – leads to one of the more astute aphorisms tossed about in the play: “You must grow in love, not fall in love.”

Whether through the Hindi tale of the moon’s anger with Ganesh or the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty – which Zina calls “a suicidal egg” – the play affirms the power of myth and story, and hints that the line between them is thinner than we think.

Gobi and Zina’s story is simply told, but despite or because of this, it is no less powerful. With only a minimal set (saris draped behind the store counter), inventive sound effects and a few masks, the production is an urban pastoral of immigrant life and familial love.

Beware, Krishnan’s Dairy is just as charming as The Candlestickmaker, part of the company’s trilogy on India and the Indian disapora that played here last week, but it includes a love story that is much more bittersweet.

It certainly reduced this reviewer to tears.

Let us hope co-presenter Singapore Repertory Theatre manages to bring in The Pickle King, the third in the trilogy, as well.