By JON KAPLAN
Don't let Theatre Jones Roy's production of the solo show Pyaasa slip beneath your theatre-going radar.
Written and performed by Anusree Roy and directed by Thomas Morgan Jones, the show is a gripping if occasionally melodramatic look at the caste system in India, especially at the untouchables who occupy the lowest rung of the social ladder.
At the centre of the tale is Chaya, an 11-year-old untouchable whose mother works cleaning toilets for a higher-caste household. Living in a plastic-tent community under a leaky bridge, the family has a dismal life and little in the way of an improvable future...until the mother suggests that Chaya work cleaning cups at a tea stall owned by the son of the household's head servant.
The material involving the untouchables is especially potent. When the shadow of Chaya's mother falls across the head servant, for instance, the servant feels she must cleanse herself of the filth; untouchables aren't permitted even to look at those of a higher caste. Boiled rice-water is the family's staple diet.
Beginning the show with a sigh that suggests the inevitability of fate, Roy plays all the characters, giving strong physical life to the various women from various castes. There's fine emotion in each of the figures, from the gleefulness of the young Chaya experiencing her first cup of tea to the mistress's sneering comments on Chaya's mother and the mother's angry revenge on the upper-caste household.
The production's lighting design by David DeGrow is just as evocative and striking. DeGrow uses light to create a prison for Chaya and her mother, a prison that's only partly razed at the end of the show.
The show runs in the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16
Ryerson) until Sunday; tickets at 416-504-7529. It's worth a visit.