Review—A Brimful of Asha
Currently wrapping up its run at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, A Brimful of Asha offers up an intimate and touching look at the cultural chasm that separates the expectations of first generation immigrants of their families—in this case Indian—and their children who grow up claiming the norms of their birthplace as their own no matter the differences from the patterns within their homes. While this is common source material for many a film—art and mainstream—it is less used in live production. What makes this production even more compelling is that one of the two actors, Asha Jain, is not a professional actor at all. Asha, as the title’s namesake, is the anchor around which the play pivots, and the mother of the play’s creator Ravi Jain.
And that isn’t the only thing that makes this play unusual. Any performer—be they an actor, musician, juggler, or acrobat—showcasing their art in front of a live audience must possess a certain type of courage: one that allows them to practice their art, not in isolation, but in front of their audience with all the dangers that comes with feeling the audience’s immediate reactions. In many cases, escaping into the cloak of the character allows one to protect oneself from this scrutiny. After all, it is then the character that the audience is judging as much as the actor But what happens when the character and the story line are based on the real lives of the two actors involved? I can only imagine what strength it must take to put one’s own foibles up for such display. Here I am not talking about the saccharine banality of “Reality Television”.
And yet the play has a beguiling rhythm that draws one in—not necessarily because of the strength of the plot—but from the genuine interaction of mother and son who can both carry themselves as actors while retaining the familial bond that reinforces the roles that they play on stage. And it reveals itself in small things, such as Asha wiping away the crumbs from the table around the plate of the samosas that were on offer before the play began; a natural act of domesticity that allows the conversation between actors and audience to slip seamlessly from preamble into play.
And like our own lives, family tensions in the play are interspersed with bouts of hilarity when each is made certain of the bonds that tie families together.
While many in the audience last night were friends and family of the actors, and had undoubtedly come to express their support to the endeavour, I, as someone completely unversed in theatre, felt completely at ease eavesdropping on the conversation between mother and son. And, in the end, I have to credit both actors since this is exactly what I suspect was intended.