Nicco Lorenzo Garcia is effective in Same Same But Different, but the two one-acts are too similar.
SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT by Anita Majumdar. Directed by Brian Quirt (Theatre Passe Muraille/Alberta Theatre Projects). At Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson). To March 8. $15-$32.50. 416-504-7529. See listing. Rating: NNN
This pair of one-act plays uses the backstage politics of Bollywood film and music production to make pointed observations about issues surrounding skin tone, class and national identity in post-colonial India. However, this important goal is largely accomplished by the first intermission, and the weaker second play struggles by comparison.
The first story takes place on the set of a present-day Bollywood production shooting in Vancouver and tells the story of an unlikely budding romance between newcomer backup dancer Ben (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia) and star performer Aisha (Anita Majumdar). While the unseen director (voiced by Reza Jacobs) badgers Aisha about lightening her complexion, Ben, whose parents are Pilipino and Spanish, slowly reveals his obsession with Bollywood, and with Aisha in particular.
In the second story, set 20 years earlier, two unknown singers record background vocals in a cramped soundproof recording booth in India. Here, Majumdar plays Aisha's mother, Kabira, and Lorenzo Garcia plays Felipe, a Pilipino-born Indian citizen conscious of the violent revolutionary struggle occurring back home.
Unfortunately, the second story doesn't differ enough from the first to justify stretching the length of the show to nearly three hours. With the same actors playing similar characters (Jacobs is back as an unseen sound engineer), the repetition isn't productive and the detail that Kabira is Aisha's mother is easy to miss. And since the action of the second play is confined to a tiny recording booth, the staging is static and the pace at times sluggish.
Despite these issues, Majumdar's stories are rich in detail and, for the most part, she performs them well with Lorenzo Garcia. The pair generate palpable chemistry onstage, especially during the first half in a scene when Ben and Aisha are left to choreograph a dance sequence together.
However, Jacobs, as the voice of the shallow, impatient and easily distracted director and sound engineer ends up being the unintentional breakout character. He provides some comic relief as the provoker of Aisha and Kabira's insecurities. His laid-back, foul-mouthed performance is hilarious and worthy of its own spinoff.
The few interesting tidbits in the second play - especially about Felipe's concept of national identity - could conceivably be incorporated into the first narrative, which would make things less confusing and shorten the near-epic run time.