Richard Zeppieri, Mina James, Elizabeth Saunders and Maggie Huculak address 6 Essential Questions.
6 ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS by Priscila Uppal (Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). To March 30. $27-$42, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-9971. See listing. Rating: NNN
Priscila Uppal's 6 Essential Questions has the feel of a riotous Rio Carnival: it's raucous, in your face, often entertaining and leaves you with a jumble of images that are hard to piece together.
The script, Uppal's first, is based on her memoir about tracking down and questioning the mother who left her Canadian family and returned home to Brazil when Uppal was a child. The play stays in the realm of diverting magic realism until near the end, when the writer's surrogate, Renata (Mina James), demands the truth from her larger-than-life mother.
Properly filling the stage, the red-gowned Elizabeth Saunders is vibrant and irrepressible, with an endless list of reasons for liking herself. The reality she's devised keeps her daughter at a distance. At the same time, Renata's near-invisible uncle, Doctor Garbage (Richard Zeppieri), tries to get her to look at her evasive parent from another angle.
The story becomes even more surreal with the addition of Renata's possibly dead grandmother (Maggie Huculak) to the action, which takes place on Victoria Wallace's set, a garbage dump filled with memories of the past.
Director Leah Cherniak mines the comedy, which has echoes of Monty Python and the Marx Brothers. She also provides moments of sadness and frustration beneath the smiles, but the scattered script doesn't add up to a satisfying whole.
There's lots of good work by the cast, especially Saunders's exotic, energetic mother and Huculak's sensual, wistful, fantasizing grandmother. Zeppieri is often mesmerizing in the trickster role, prodding Renata toward uncomfortable truths. But until that final hard confrontation, the script casts James as a neutral figure, someone with whom it's hard to empathize or identify.
I wish the production had had a larger budget, which could have made the show's magic more spectacular and highlighted its tender moments, which include several Brazilian songs, one of which emerges from a purse.