Little Pretty And The Exceptional
Shruti Kothari (left), Farah Merani and Sugith Varughese
LITTLE PRETTY AND THE EXCEPTIONAL by Anusree Roy (Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Runs to April 30. $25-$55. See listing. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN
In Anusree Roy’s Little Pretty And The Exceptional, set in Little India’s Gerrard Street, there’s much more to focus on than shimmering, colourful saris.
The Singh family – father Dilpreet (Sugith Varughese) and his daughters, Simran (Farah Merani) and her younger sister Jasmeet (Shruti Kothari) – about to open a new sari shop, are haunted by a secret they don’t discuss.
That secret is suggested early in the play, though, by Simran’s twitchy fingers, pulling at her throat and increasing nervousness and anxiety. Part of the stress is her intention, pushed by her father, to be an Osgoode Law School grad. But we soon learn that their deceased mother had trouble sorting out what was real and what wasn’t; Simran manifests the same condition.
As Jasmeet (the Little Pretty of the title) prepares for her high school prom and helps, with her new boyfriend Iyar (Shelly Antony), to make the shop’s opening a grand one, Simran (the Exceptional) sinks deeper into a frantic state over her LSAT score.
Holding them together is their demanding father, a sometimes comic new Canadian shopkeeper who wants the best for his kids. Varughese plays the laughs, mostly around Jasmeet and Iyar; he considers Iyar too dark a Tamil with teeth that are too white.
When Jasmeet calls him a racist, he responds, “how I be racist to my own race?”
But early on he also shows his sensitivity to his elder daughter, and his concern grows throughout the play. Roy’s given him a touching, quietly passionate second act speech, perhaps the best in the play, in which he speaks to his deceased wife and reminds her of their plans for the family.
Antony is ebullient and full of energy, eventually winning over the man he starts to call “uncle,” and Kothari is a winner as the lively, vibrant Jasmeet, with a great sense of timing. The younger child who seems never to have accepted her parent’s death except with anger, she relies on Internet information to help her sister, insisting that her father’s attitude toward medical care is wrong.
The stumbling block and the hardest role in this entertaining but sometimes chilling story is that of Simran, who can only sink further and further into depression and violent acts. There’s little nuance available to Merani, even when director Brendan Healy, lighting designer André du Toit and sound designer Richard Feren allow us to see into her mind and what she’s going through.
The play’s final scene takes play on Canada Day, as Dilpreet and family are about to open their new store, full of hope for a new future. It’s a very human, open-ended conclusion, with both joy and the sense that things might not go as well as they’d all like.