Touched By Sincerity As We Celebrate

By Theatreview

Indian Ink’s latest heart-warming production has their usual spice-mix of fabulous comedy, touching backstories, hapless contemporary characters and magic moments of timeless storytelling. With just a hint of boosting around the teeth, authors Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan still keep to their traditions of masking, so prominent in their earliest production Krishnan’s Dairy and which this story follows after a period of 20 years.

In that first wonderful play, Mr Krishnan was attacked and killed by an intruder in their corner dairy. Now, still alone, Mrs Krishnan has kept the store going for two decades, brought up their son, educated him and sent him off to the world to make good. To fill the gap in her house and as a favour to friends, she has taken in a boarder, James, who is a student, and it appears that, behind her back, he has invited the audience to attend a party – in the back of her shop. It is immediately apparent that this is not going to be a play to sit back from. James engages everyone with passing out scarves, garlands and bindi dots, all setting up to give Mrs Krishnan a surprise when she comes into the back room after a day in her shop.

The occasion is Onam, a South Indian harvest festival celebrating the return of Mahabali, from the underworld. In Hindu legend, Mahabali was a wealthy and arrogant landowner and lord who was tricked by the gods, though Vishnu, into losing his land and his life, in one of those three wishes scenarios of which myths are populated.  But the gods granted him one visit back to his people each year and so this feast celebrates this return.

The story is retold through several sections of the play, by James, and then Mrs Krishnan, who, in the retelling warms up to the thought of over 100 strangers in her shop, and begins to make us all dahl, a lentil curry. As she cooks and bosses everyone into assisting her, opening tomato cans, finding onions and dahl lentils, rice and spices, the story behind this vegetarian feast resumes, this time with dance and with the aid of kitchen implements, spatula and spoon taking the parts of gods and men.

The cast are both extremely talented actors. Kalyani Nagarajan is an irresistible Mrs K, and her gift of remembering names of strangers and then insinuating them into the dialogue is extraordinary. This is a two-hander play for 102 people. Her voice and fluidity with gesture and Indian classical dance are also well employed in creating layers to this passionate and principled character.

Justin Rogers’ James is also nuanced with moments of self-doubt, despite his desire to come across as a party boy, whipping up our reserved Kiwi crowd into something resembling a rave. His timing is also perfect for drawing in the audience to work with him on secrets in the plot and assisting with the cooking. We are then implicated in his ultimate gaffe, a twist to the plot all the stronger for our involvement. This is risky work, and the actors bring it off superbly.

But Indian Ink are also experts in stagecraft and here the set design, so artfully shabby and deliberately incidental is no exception. Lighting surprises also delight and the use of sound, music and cell phone technology is well-managed as is the sheer brilliance of timing in cooking a vast amount of curry and rice in front of our eyes, drawing all into the party spirit under the shadow of a god’s death. For all the fun and energy, as we are encouraged to celebrate, we are also touched by the sincerity of these good souls.

Namaste, Indian Ink, “I bow to the divine in you.”