A Sri Lankan family living in Toronto faces medical and emotional problems
THE ENCHANTED LOOM by Suvendrini Lena (Cahoots/Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Runs to November 27. $25-$55. See listing. 416-504-9971, factorytheatre.ca. Rating: NNN
In The Enchanted Loom, crises from the past and the present entangle a Tamil family who left Sri Lanka during that country’s civil war to live in Canada.
Suvendrini Lena’s play, her first, is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is its focus on a culture rarely seen on a Toronto stage. Still, the script has weaknesses as well as strengths.
Former journalist Thangan (Sam Kalilieh) was tortured and now suffers epileptic seizures. One of his twin sons, Kavalan, disappeared during the war and may be dead.
The family – his wife Sevi (Zorana Sadiq), daughter Kavitha (Asha Vijayasingham) and the remaining twin, Kanan (Kawa Ada) – do their best to deal with Thangan’s debilitating illness. Kanan is studying medicine, the questioning young Kavitha looks to her father for emotional support and Sevi takes care of them all.
The chance of an operation to improve Thangan’s condition holds danger as well as promise, with Kanan’s mentor, neurologist Dr. Mendoza (Beatriz Pizano), and a surgeon, Dr. Wagdi (Peter Bailey), offering their thoughts about the operation’s possible success.
Lena, herself a neurologist, sets up plenty of opportunities for dramatic confrontations, arguably too many, and some are more effective than others.
The complex relationship between Sevi and Thangan is at the show’s heart. She’s uncertain whether she still loves her husband, while he is devoted to her. Their dialogue includes some seductive poetry in which he attempts to woo her again.
Also moving are scenes between Kavitha and her mother in which the older woman reluctantly teaches her daughter to dance. Nova Bhattacharya’s choreography is elegant and expressive as the two generations forge a relationship based on cultural tradition.
Lena makes some intriguing points that connect memory, fear, grief and physiology – the title comes from the image of the brain as a series of shuttles weaving an ever-changing pattern – but at times the medical information is too dry to work dramatically, even though Mendoza presents that information as a poignant metaphor. Other points, such as Thangan’s generosity to the Tamil community, Kavitha’s learning about her family’s traditions, and parallels between the two doctors’ histories and that of this family, are touched on but not developed.
Director Marjorie Chan’s production, staged on Joanna Yu’s white set, turns Factory Studio into an operating theatre, the audience observing the action from either side of the performance space as scenes flow seamlessly. Arun Srinivasan’s lighting and Cameron Davis’s projections on floor and walls create atmosphere, though at times the presentation feels cramped.
The performances are engaging, especially those of Ada as both passionate brothers, Kalilieh as the troubled but optimistic Thangan, Sadiq as Sevi, intent on holding the family together while concealing a secret from her past, and Pizano as the compassionate doctor.