Cylla von Tiedemann
The Death Of Mrs. Gandhi And The Beginning Of New Physics (A Political Fantasy)
Tennille Read (left) and Elley-Ray Hennessy
The Death Of Mrs. Gandhi And The Beginning of New Physics (A Political Fantasy) by Kawa Ada (Everything But The Bard/Next Stage). Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Jan 8 at 8:30 pm, Jan 10 at 6:15 pm, Jan 12 at 9:30 pm, Jan 13 at 7:30 pm, Jan 14 at 4 pm, Jan 15 at 12:15 pm. $15, festival passes $48-$90. See listing. 416-966-1062, fringetoronto.com. Rating: NNNN
Kawa Ada populates his entertaining satire The Death Of Mrs. Gandhi And The Beginning Of New Physics (A Political Fantasy) with some of the strongest female politicians of the past half century: Margaret Thatcher (Elley-Ray Hennessy), Benazir Bhutto (Tennille Read) and Imelda Marcos (Nina Lee Aquino).
And he throws into the mix a newbie politico from Canada, Kim Campbell (Trenna Keating).
Importantly, the playwright/director looks at how these women wield power and questions how they might do so differently.
It’s 1984, and the four have gathered for the funeral of the recently assassinated Indira Gandhi. Thatcher seizes on the occasion to announce an international council of women leaders.
Things go off course with the arrival of Malala (Ellora Patnaik), a feminist from the future who encases everyone in a quantum time bubble and hopes to convince the others that the future of humankind is precarious.
Ada’s created sharp, intentionally broad characters who make succinct political and social points through comedy. All the politicians scramble for positions on the ladder of power, always acknowledging that Thatcher, who idolizes Reagan, is at the top. They’re insufferably self-centred, except for the initially nervous, self-effacing Campbell, to whom everyone condescends; guffaws greet any suggestion that she might become the leader of Canada.
They regularly hurl stinging potshots at each other, entertaining with their backbiting and bitchiness.
Tied to the humour are more serious thoughts about patriarchal control both overt and subtle, about how the world could change, blended with ideas about racism, sexism, science, Islam and society's haves and have-nots. Notice the statement made by table base on the audience-left side of the stage.
Arguably, there’s too much packed into the 90 minute show; some further shaping of the material and cutting repetitious points would tighten the script.
The game cast goes for the comedy and the large size of their roles, starting with Hennessy’s patronizing, liquor-loving, devious Thatcher, always one step ahead of the others. Read offers an aloof Bhutto, born to power but, now in exile in England (though not for long), trying to learn as much as she can from the Iron Lady. Aquino’s fashion-focused Marcos gets lots of laughs, while Keating’s novice, growing into power, proves to be the group’s moral pointer.
It’s the resonant-voiced Patnaik who has the most demanding role, as Malala tries to persuade the others that the world can be a better place and, vitally, how that can be accomplished. As they regularly dismiss her arguments, she keeps changing tactics to get them to see and create a different future.
Even at this stage in the script’s development, there’s plenty to admire, intellectually and theatrically.