RICE BOY by Sunil Kuruvilla, directed by Micheline Chevrier, with Deena Aziz, Pragna Desai, Sean T. Krishnan, Imali Perera, Anand Rajaram, Tom Rooney, Zohra Segal, Zaib Shaikh, Errol Sitahal and Sanjay Talwar. Presented by CanStage at Berkeley Street (26 Berkeley). Opens tonight (Thursday, April 3) and runs to May 10, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $20-$75. 416-368-3110.
Good Thing Zaib Shaikh is in touch with his preteen boy. As 12-year-old Tommy, the pivotal character in Sunil Kuruvilla's Rice Boy, Shaikh spends much of his time climbing trees, both in Canada and India."Even when I was 12, I was far less sophisticated than children that age are today," Shaikh recalls over a bagel-and-lox lunch. "But I can get into Tommy's head -- to communicate his vulnerability, innocence and zeal for discovery -- by identifying with his cultural duality.
"I can play that essence of Tommy, and Sunil has helped by giving Tommy a wonderfully childlike voice."
Born here at St. Michael's Hospital and of Pakistani heritage, Shaikh remembers being the only brown kid in high school and later in theatre school.
Now a director as well as an actor -- he runs Fallen Angels Productions, which plans projects as diverse as a text/movement piece based on The Prophet and a quartet of French farces staged environmentally in the Grange -- Shaikh has really impressed audiences in the past year.
He shone in last season's production of Indian Ink and then got more applause as the romantic hero Lysander in the outdoor Dream In High Park. His strengths in Shakespeare? High energy, sharp focus and an admirable facility with the verse.
"Given last summer's heat, keeping up the energy was sometimes hard," he says. "I was in four layers of costume and, like everyone else, wore ice packs backstage."
Kuruvilla's script deals not only with an immigrant's difficulty in bridging cultures, but also, just as importantly, with the constraints felt by young people in most societies. As we've learned in such scripts as Fighting Words and the Fringe show Minus One, Kuruvilla organizes his material in a non-traditional fashion, selecting key emotional moments rather than progressing linearly through a narrative.
Rice Boy focuses on Tommy, who now lives in Canada, and Tina, his disabled, housebound cousin in India who's awaiting an arranged marriage. Visiting India, Tommy learns what it means to run away and be lost. Part of that escape is tree-climbing.
"The material is presented in poetic snapshots layered with so much that's not being said," offers Shaikh. "Everyone has moments with Tommy where their hopeless situation becomes, for a second, hopeful."
It'll be a treat to see a show on a Toronto mainstage that involves so many performers of colour. In fact, there's only one white actor in the cast. But don't presume that everyone else comes from the same cultural or artistic background.
"The actors draw on northern Indian, southern Indian, Zimbabwean and Anglo-Indian traditions.
"I feel like the boring one," says Shaikh, flashing another smile, "because I haven't done Kathakali dance or Indian shadow puppetry.
"My background is scenes by Judith Thompson and Tennessee Williams." email@example.com