ROSHNI by Anusree Roy (Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). To December 11. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
You probably don't know anyone who grew up in a railway station.
Calcutta's largest station is the setting for Anusree Roy's Roshni, in which preteens Chumki and King Kumar learn crucial lessons about life. Roshni means "light" in Hindi, and Roy's script sheds a rich light on human hopes.
Chumki (Roy) is a blind shoeshine girl, King Kumar (Byron Abalos) a tea seller. Both are young, charming con artists with immense energy, trying to scrape together enough money to realize their dreams. King Kumar wants to be a Bollywood celebrity, and Chumki, blind after a bout of measles, longs to have her sight restored.
Each is encouraged by adults who look for a healthy financial payoff from the children. Boss Man promises that his brother, a surgeon, can cure Chumki, while King Kumar's uncle in Bombay dangles the carrot of a friend of a friend's connections in the film industry.
In her first two-actor play, Roy continues to explore the warmth and humanity of her characters. Chumki and King Kumar are strongly realized, physically and verbally.
Roy's Chumki radiates optimism about her life with King Kumar but also the occasional pang of jealousy when he doesn't pay her the attention she wants. She's happiest clinging to his arm, her crush on him only slightly concealed.
Abalos's King Kumar is brash or obsequious as the occasion requires when he's peddling his wares, and we see a palpable struggle when he's forced to choose between two alternative futures.
Thomas Morgan Jones directs with a sure hand, while Lindsay Anne Black's set of corrugated metal walls and high, dirty windows evokes the crowded station. David DeGrow's lighting magically brings characters and audience onto a moving train, and Thomas Ryder Payne's textured soundscape adds atmosphere.