Living in a well regulated, multicultural country such as Canada feels about as safe and cozy as it could. This is probably why we rarely stop to think how hard it could be for newcomers, young and old, to adapt to a new environment while still preserving their own culture. The generation gap could not be any deeper than in this kind of reality: while the young want to blend, the older people tend to resist to any, even the smallest change. This is exactly what the multitalented artist, Anita Majumdar, deals with in a fascinating story about the life and struggle of a teenage Indo-Canadian girl who desperately tries to fit into a predominantly white society in Port Moody Senior Secondary in British Columbia.
Fish Eyes is the first part of a trilogy (consisting of Fish Eyes, Boys with Cars and Let Me Borrow That Top). Here, we meet Meena, a high school girl who takes lessons in traditional Indian dance with a teacher she calls Aunty. While preparing for a dance festival in India, Meena shows a very strong resistance to anything that is typical of the country of her origin, culminating in a decision to not participate in the event. The reason: her first love, the not so smart but very popular boy Buddy, is in love with another (blonde) girl.
Throughout Meena’s dance lessons, and her complaints, she dances gracefully and acts convincingly like an angry and disappointed teen. With ease and exceptional dexterity, she switches from a teen to Aunty, making each character unique and very convincing. This is especially evident in her moments of unreserved honesty, when she opens up. A wonderful dancer, Majumdar uses dance moves to enable smooth transitions. Her sense of humour is superb, her writing witty, and she connects with all characters completely. It is a funny, entertaining, artistic and well-directed show in which all the elements fit together. She even makes various stereotypes serve a purpose excellently.
The second part of the Trilogy is a different story. The approach that worked so well in Fish Eyes does not work as well in Boys with Cars. While Fish Eyes is a light comedy, Boys with Cars is a serious drama with more complexity and depth. The narrative comes from a very wounded soul and it probes into a darker place. Here, the author investigates prejudices, as well as shallow and greedy minds that destroy the most vulnerable ones. There is no place in it for stereotypical sulky-teenage-type humour. The heroine, Naz, experiences a cruel awakening. Mistreated and misunderstood as a woman by the object of her admiration (Buddy), she feels low, stupid, naïve, and dirty. In the process, she loses the respect and love of those close to her. Anita Majumdar’s rendition of the suddenly and painfully matured teen supersedes anything that she showed in the previous show. Superbly written and acted, it leaves the audience breathless. Every word uttered, every move on the stage infuses life into the play and tells the bitter truth with unbelievable persuasion. Majumdar again portrays several characters with ease and skill. Only, in this case, the black and white stereotypes of Fish Eyes do not sit well at this deeper level of narrative. The play is directed as a classical, straightforward story, which makes some elements appear rushed and unconnected, since there are so many of them. Another problematic moment is the very last scene, which is completely unrelated to the story, and seems to be added just to make us laugh (no need for that). Majumdar’s narrative resembles stream of consciousness, so that genre would probably work much better directed in tat style. Dance could be used as a part of the storytelling, to show the mood and the state of the heroine’s mind, rather than as just entertainment (“look what I can do”).
Boys with Cars is an exceptional narrative, and Anita Majumdar is a unique artist. She does not need to prove anything. Her art speaks for itself, and it speaks to our minds and hearts. There is no need for cheap laughs or “crowed pleasers.” My advice to the artist (and director) is: drop the teenage humour, cut the ending, and choose the right genre. There is no need to reduce a great play to just a pleasant one.
Fish Eyes and Boys with Cars
Written, choreographed and performed by Anita Majumdar
Directed by: Brian Quirt
Set designed by: Jackie Chau
Continues at the Great Canadian Theatre Company until November 2nd