MY GRANNY THE GOLDFISH by Anosh Irani, directed by Rosemary Dunsmore, with Kawa Ada, Yolande Bavan, Veena Sood and Sanjay Talwar (Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Previews through Wednesday (March 21), opens Thursday (March 22) and runs to April 15, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $30-$40, Sunday pwyc, preview $20. 416-504-9971. See listing.
Laughter cures on several levels in My Granny The Goldfish, Vancouver writer Anosh Irani's play about Nico, a young Indian man dealing with illness and an emotionally debilitating family.
A hypochondriac, Nico (Kawa Ada) lives in Canada partly as a way of distancing himself from his parents in Bombay. When he finds himself in a Vancouver hospital, his grandmother pays an unexpected visit.
An admitted alcoholic - the play's title comes from her deceased husband's calling her his goldfish because of her love for golden whiskey - Granny (Yolande Bavan) carries around a flask and regularly dispenses her wisdom to anyone who'll listen.
"Yet she's the epitome of compassion," says Kawa Ada, who plays Nico in the Factory Theatre production. "Granny is such a dichotomy, which is part of her humanity; one moment she'll spout a fantastic proverb of folk wisdom, the next she's undercut it with a crass, shocking anecdote.
"That's how she lives her life and wants Nico to, as well. She has real passion, real love for life, but no sentimentality for the world in which she lives."
In contrast to Granny, Nico sees his parents, Farzeen (Veena Sood) and Dara (Sanjay Talwar), as frustrating and inexplicable figures. Also heavy drinkers, they fight constantly and are given to racist and sexist comments.
Surprisingly, playwright (Bombay Black) and novelist (The Song of Kahunsha and Dahanu Road) Irani looks at his characters through a comic lens.
"In contrast to the others, Nico is an idealist who cringes whenever he hears his family making disparaging remarks," offers Ada, who spent three seasons at the Shaw Festival and appeared in Cahoots Theatre's paper SERIES last spring. "He learns there's a beauty in his family's flaws. In accepting his family, he lets go of what's been imprisoning him.
"Nico has spent his life holding tightly onto his beliefs and neuroses, blaming his alcoholic parents and upbringing. He starts to mature only when he accepts what his Granny says and looks at his family with different eyes; that's when he moves from a boy stuck in one place to someone with glimpses of what it's like to be an adult."
Comedy might seem an unusual way to bring about the change.
"But in Eastern cultures, whether at home or in a diasporic community, humour is a way of getting through the toughest of situations," explains Ada, whose family left Afghanistan. "Though Nico's family isn't dealing with too many external hardships, there is lots of internal strife between the generations.
"Laughter helps the audience, too, allowing viewers to listen to and think about some of the play's more uncomfortable material in a different way."
Even with the laughs, he admits that Nico can be a hard part to play.
"That's because I'm so stationery, in bed for almost the entire show. It's a physical challenge to find variety in a confined space, as the other three characters dance around the immobile Nico.
"Also, he's not the funny one but the character who reacts to what's going on around him. It's a challenge for me as an actor to allow the other performers to inform what I give back to them; I have to live moment to moment, with nothing premeditated."
Ada's especially happy to be in a mainstage production of a script by an Indo-Canadian playwright featuring a multicultural cast; last fall, also at Factory Theatre, a diverse group of actors performed Tomson Highway's The Rez Sisters. That inclusiveness is also part of the mandate at Cahoots Theatre, where Ada is playwright in residence, working on a piece called Aman And Roshan, each in two times.
"I appreciate that both theatres seek out plays and actors that reflect the face of this city and country."