Category Archives: tradition

Theatre Review: “Brimful of Asha” Brings You Home to the Theatre

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in "A Brimful of Asha"

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in “A Brimful of Asha”

Toronto’s Ravi Jain is at home in the theatre, and with A Brimful of Asha, at Soulpepper till Saturday during its national tour, he and his mom, Asha, make everyone feel at home, greeting each audience member with a fresh samosa and a “Thank you for coming!” Are they getting into character or just being themselves? “I’m not an actor,” begins Asha. What they present, with more reality than The Bachelor, is “not a play” but “a dispute” over the attempt to arrange Ravi’s marriage.

Asha and Ravi give contrasting perspectives on what happened when Ravi, at age 27, went to his parents’ homeland India to give an acting workshop in 2007 and they decided to come along to find him a bride. On each side of the generational and cultural divide, the question seems so clear cut whether it is for the parents to choose when and to whom their child will be married. But there are points to be made on both sides. As Apu says on the Simpsons, “Mother, come on, you know that 1 in 25 arranged marriages ends in divorce.”

Asha wears a vibrant fuchsia sari; her son wears a traditional Indian shirt with jeans and sneakers. No costume designer is credited, as the two are surely wearing their own clothes. The simple, homey set is a dining table and two chairs on a rug-covered platform, framed by a curtain in the centre of which is a wide-screen monitor where Jain periodically refers to family photos, maps, and video clips (set designer, Julie Fox; lighting and video designer, Beth Kates).

Ravi Jain is the director of this show he created with his mother primarily through improvisation, and he is an experienced, thoroughly trained actor and award-winning director (2012 Pauline McGibbon Award; founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre; an artist in residence at Soulpepper Theatre Company; inaugural artistic director in residence at The Theatre Centre), but while it is sometimes evident that Ravi is stepping in to keep a scene on track, it is untrained Asha, a self-described “dedicated housewife and abused mother”, who steals scene after scene. This is the role Asha was born to play.

Although the duo has performed this show many times in many cities since its premiere at Tarragon in 2012, it does not feel over-rehearsed, in fact it feels perpetually spontaneous, and it probably is a little different every night. The show is primarily humorous but with an undercurrent of tension always ready to pull you in. There is little by way of overt action and the simple production looks easy, an occasionally heated conversation as mother and son sit at the table drinking tea, but the story they tell is a rollercoaster ride, a contentious and intimate conversation to which they welcome us as witnesses. Asha very much seems to be enjoying being herself, and yet the two of them are going over a lot of emotionally charged memories and it must be a taxing experience to relive such painful and personal conflict in front of a packed audience night after night.

As early as age five, Ravi regularly entertained the “extended family” that was his community by mimicking India’s legendary film actor Amitabh Bachchan. Asha teases that, by pursuing a life in the theatre, Ravi is not allowing himself to move on from the first of life’s four stages, establishing a “real” profession, onto the next stage of finding a wife. The debate is real, but so is the love. At least in the context of the Jain family, the intent of arranged marriage is not to dictate but to ensure a secure and happy future for the child. Fittingly, the name Asha means “hope”.

 

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Filed under cross cultural understanding, documentary, family and relationships, perspective, theatre, theatre reviews, tradition

My New Play: Father Hero Traitor Son

New play, new blog!

The play and the blog are in progress. Please, read the blog, tolerate the self-promotion, and get ready to see the play at the Fundy Fringe Festival in Saint John, NB, August 21 to 25!

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/about/

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

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Half-Irish Blues

I grew up believing I was Scottish (which is a bit daft because I was born and raised in Canada, as were both sides of my family for three generations) but when I was 30-something (probably years of age) my maternal grandmother was ranting about my Irish heritage. What does this have to do with me? “Didn’t anyone ever tell you, Evan? The ancestors of both of your grandmothers were from Ireland.”

Proud to Be Irish, flag

Suddenly a deep dark family secret came to light: I was not simply, as I’d always been told, a descendent of pale redheaded people who tended sheep and subsisted on oats and whisky in the northern part of the island of Britain, I was every bit as much a descendent of pale redheaded people who tended sheep and subsisted on potatoes and whiskey in the northern part of the island of Ireland! In an instant, my self-image was tossed in a raging wind of uncertainty!

In my bewilderment and rage, I went ’round the pub and drowned my sorrows in beer after beer. At closing time, as the bartender was rolling me out the door he said, “What are you, Irish?” And suddenly I understood. I’m a double Celt half-breed.

irish yoga

Now, instead of being woefully ignorant of Scottish Gaelic, my burden is doubled by my ignorance of Irish Gaelic. I’ll have to fill my sporran with potatoes. And it won’t be easy playing the bagpipes with one arm and the bodhrán with the other. Half the time I would otherwise have devoted to trying to comprehend Robbie Burns’ Address to a Haggis must henceforth be devoted to trying to fathom James Joyce’s Ulysses. And now my options seem to be limited in religious matters, much as in Canadian politics, to only two possibilities: the orange or the green. But what is presented as black and white is all grey to me.

Only sometimes can I distinguish whether an accent is Irish or Scottish, or whether a foxy redhead is a bonnie lassie or a pretty Colleen. And I’m less expert in matters of Mc and Mac than people have come to expect of me.

Fortunately, there is an easy way out of my dilemma. Based on my appearance, people often ask if I’m German. Since I speak more German than Gaelic anyway, henceforth, I should just reply, “Ja”.

Am I Scottish or Irish? Nein!

Scottish or Irish? Nein!

Whatever you consider yourself to be, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you!

Please also read my brief and rather silly St Patrick’s Day article http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/March-2013/Seven-things-all-Torontonians-should-know-about-Ireland-for-St-Patricks-Day/

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Who Needs International Women’s Day?

Who needs International Women’s Day? Didn’t Mary Wollstonecraft and Sojourner Truth take care of all that two centuries ago? “Women can vote. What more do they want?” Hmm…

Malala Yousafzai, 14-year-old girl shot for speaking out about her right to education, in 2012

Malala Yousafzai, 14-year-old girl shot for speaking out about her right to education, in 2012. She can’t be stopped; but she can be supported.

If you are unaware of the continuing practices of female genital mutilation, the forbidding of education for females, acid attacks and ironically-named “honour killings”, your ignorance must be blissful.

And if you think these are all problems of faraway places, not here in safe and civilized Canada, you must be avoiding mainstream news even more vigorously than I do.

Perhaps you are unmoved by the frequency with which Canadian Aboriginal women are murdered or go missing, but don’t imagine such crimes are limited to one group or community.

Statistics Canada declares, “violence against women in Canada continues to be a persistent and ongoing problem.”

Who needs International Women’s Day? We all do. Learn the facts, and let women have their day.

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January the Two-Faced Month Looks Back and Forward

 

Photo: Bust of the god Janus, Vatican museum, Vatican City. photo by Fubar Obfusco.

Janus (sometimes depicted beardless on one side), Vatican Museum. Photo by the charmingly named Fubar Obfusco.

 

As January comes to a close, let us consider that January means “the month of Janus”.

Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings, of gates and transitions. He is the god with two faces (aren’t they all?), one looking back and the other to the future. He represents the transition from youth to adulthood, and from barbaric to civilized.

In ancient times, when Rome was at war the gates of the temple of Janus would be open, in times of peace the gates were closed (the origin of the “status update”; only one side closed meant “it’s complicated”). Ancient Romans held, as one might, that the way things begin bodes how things will continue to unfold, so as the new year began they would wish each other well and give figs and other little gifts.

So this is the end of the beginning of 2013. I am going to endeavour to keep both my Gemini sides less Janus-faced. I am going to try growing up a bit more (in my own Bohemian way), I am going to strive to more closely approximate my definition of civilized, I am going to close the gates on belligerent impulses, wish well to all, and generally give a fig.

 

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Oh, Mousie, Not Your Best-Laid Scheme. A Burns’ Day Tale, Sad But True

Too a Mouse

On Lifting up My Toilet Seat Last Sunday Morning, January, 2013

Wee, sleeket, soggy, floatin’ beastie,
Panic’s no more in thy breastie.
Thou shouldn’a jump’d in there sae hasty,
Wi’out floatation!
Had I but heard, I’d come an’ save thee,
From wet damnation!

I’m truly sorry human plumbing,
Unsuited to your way of coming,
Did lead to your most sad succumbing,
— that hinge-side gap —
and brought you to an end so numbing,
Last words? “Oh, crap!”

Thy attic fam’ly, now, in ruin;
They must be wond’rin what you’re doin’!
An’ no one, now, to feed the sma’ ones
Wi’ nibbles thieved.
An’ January’s snows keep blowin.
Thou shouldst ha’ lived!

If caref’ler foresight you did give,
What then? poor beastie, thou wouldst live!
Instead, kin scan the will for your bequest.
Or did you nothing leave?
Och, they’ll be pissed!

Thou walked the loo, (that’s for my wast),
An’ in you fell. Mistake? Your last.
An’ in the bowl you paddled fast;
Must ha’ been hell.
No splash! You scrambled till you passed.
Tough luck. Oh well.

Thou wee-bit heap o’fur an’ bubble,
Thy end, clearly, more sad than noble.
Now thou’s done in, for a’ thy trouble,
O mouse, so bold.
Now Mousie Jr’s strife is double;
Mouse Sr’s cold!

But Mousie, thou need na complain,
You’ll ne’er make that misstep again.
The best lid-schemes for toilets, then,
Are not mouse-proof.
But now you’re past your grief an’ pain,
Thou careless goof.

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
For now, each time I go to pee,
Or poo, I backward cast my e’e,
Ere dropping rear!
Faced forward, whyles I canna see,
I guess, an’ fear!

Robert Burns

Robert Burns

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Sete de Setembro, Brazilian Independence Day, de Novo!

Por alguma razão, de todos os tópicos que eu escrevo sobre neste blog, o post que é lido com mais freqüência é esse (que eu escrevi há um ano) sobre o sete de setembro.

Feliz Dia da Independência, Brasil!

For some reason, of all the things I’ve written about on this blog, the post that gets read the most is this one I posted one year ago about the 7th of September.

Happy Independence Day, Brazil!

Antes de mais, quero agradecer ao gente incrivelmente generosa do Brasil. Em 2007 eu passei um mês visitando em Porto Alegre, São Paulo e Rio de Janeiro, com quase nenhum dinheiro, mas nenhuma falta de alimentar, segurança e boa companhia.

Eu sinto falta de vocês e tenho saudades do Brasil.

Abraços,

Evan

Brazil flag map

Brasil

Sete de Setembro

On September 7th, 1822, Brazil declared independence from Portugal. On this day, Sete de Setembro, Brazil celebrates her Dia da Independência. Here’s how that got started.

When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal in 1807, Portuguese royalty transferred their office from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, which was at that time capital of Colonial Brazil. Suddenly, Brazil was more than just a colony. It was now part of “the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves”.

The royal family went back to Portugal in 1820 and the following year told Brazil she was back to being a colony. Brazil said, “não, obrigado.” Then Portugal started to get all bossy, but Princess Maria Leopoldina, acting as Princess Regent of Brazil, sent a letter telling her husband Prince Pedro to declare Brazil’s independence. He did, thereby ending more than three centuries of Portugal’s control over Brazil. (No hard feelings, right?)

Parabéns, Brasil!

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Robbie Burns Haggis

Happy Burns Day to you!

Och, you look famished — hungry enough to eat a horse, or sheep entrails. Come, pull up a chair and have a wee nibble o’ haggis!

Fresh butcher-made haggis hot out of the oven

Haggis out of Focus (might've been the whisky), prepared by ethical butcher, cooked at home

Listen: (My Luve is Like a) Red Red Rose

Read: Got haggis? You should — it’s Robbie Burns Day (below)

Robert Burns was born Jan. 25, 1759. His birthday is celebrated all over the world. Best known for having written “To a Mouse” and “Auld Lang Syne,” he also wrote “Address to a Haggis,” an ode to Scotland’s notorious national dish. Burns called it the “great chieftain o’ the pudding race,” but if you find it hard to think of haggis as a delicacy, think of it as sheep recycling. In honour of Burns, let’s consider the haggis, which he immortalized with a “grace as lang’s my arm.”

They say those who love sausages wouldn’t want to know what goes into making them. That goes double for Scotland’s chieftain of sausages. How haggis is made is a simple question to answer: take a sheep’s heart, liver, lungs and anything tasty that might be stuck to them, mince them up with onions, oats and suet (or maybe sweat), fry it all up and sew it into the sheep’s stomach or intestine (whichever you find more appetizing). The next question is “why?” It is a way to enjoy and preserve those precious, tasty bits that might get you through a few cauld winter nichts.

Haggis, which basically means “hash” (or hacked up bits that no one would eat if they were identifiable), is not nearly as horrible as you might reasonably imagine it to be. Granted, before it’s cooked it starts off looking like road kill, but once it’s been hacked, minced, fried, stuffed, stitched, boiled and roasted, it comes out looking like, well, cooked road kill.

By the time it gets to your plate, haggis no longer looks like, um, anything in particular. In taste and texture it’s kind of like a spicy shepherd’s pie. As if that weren’t fancy enough, haggis is generally served with a side of tatties ’n’ neeps (a lovely pair, especially when they’re mashed together). That may sound a bit risqué, but it’s actually just vegetables: potatoes and turnips.

Once you’ve gone through all this trouble, don’t just sit in front of the telly and chow down. You have to dress up in your kilt, parade the haggis to the table marching in step with your household bagpiper and then recite the “Address to a Haggis” in your most obnoxious faux-Scottish accent and pretend you know what it means.

Then you pour a wee nip of whisky from the teapot and toast Burns, then toast the lassies. Repeat until the teapot runs dry.

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Merry Winter Solstice! Here Comes the Sun…

Don’t wait for Sunday; today/tomorrow is the day to celebrate!

While strip malls are swarming with stressed shoppers scrambling to get to the bottom of their lists in time for the big gift switch, the truly monumental moment is happening tonight (or tomorrow, depending where you are). It’s winter solstice – go hug an evergreen!

Algonquin evergreen trees in sun and snow on a winter day

Sun Tree Winter Green

This midwinter festival goes back way more than 2012 years. It goes back into the cold dark pagan past. It goes back to the beginning of human consciousness, when the first naked apes looked up at the winter night sky waiting for a speedier return of the increasingly overdue sun.

With days getting colder and nights getting longer, these people – with no Weather Network, no electricity, no streetlamps (nor streets) – huddled together under precious animal skins and waited for the return of light and warmth.

Must have been a hell of a thing.

But they weren’t stupid; they’d lasted long enough to figure out that things would turn around, that snows would melt and new buds would blossom.

In time, ancient peoples such as Druids and Mayans constructed stone temples that took precise celestial measurements by which they pinpointed the date on which the longest night of the year past. And you know what they did then? They celebrated!

Merry Solstice to all of you, far and near, famous or forgotten, preachy or pagan, squished together or totally solitary – Merry Solstice to every one of you!

And for those of you in the southern hemisphere, enjoy your harvest. And don’t worry, your days won’t get shorter forever.

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What’s Worn Under Your Kilt — Director’s Cut

And now, for those of you who can handle it, here’s the original, subtly different version of my kilt article which the editor watered down for his delicate readership:

“What’s Worn Under Your Kilt?” The answer of course is, “Och! Nothing; that wee haggis is as good as new!” But seriously, what’s up with the kilt? Here’s an explanation of how the kilt – the traditional attire of Scotland, and catching on around the world – is more than a plaid skirt for men.

Up Your Kilt

Up Yours, What Is?

Wearing the kilt

Who:

Most kilts you see these days are worn by girls doing Highland dancing, but once upon a time kilts were worn by men going into battle, after chasing down a few sheep (just to collect their wool, of course, to make the kilts).

Why:

To save money, Scots didn’t bother with underwear or tailors or even buttons. They just took a big piece of cloth and wrapped it around themselves.

What:

The original “Great Kilt” was simply a huge piece – five square meters – of cloth. You would pleat half of it, roll up in it, and wrap the other half around like a plaid toga. At night, it served as a blanket (meaning half as much laundry to wash, for those who bothered).

In 1746, King George II outlawed the kilt, because any man crazy enough to dress like that was bound to cause trouble. King George III made it legal again, but let’s remember that he was crazy. Queen Victoria had a Scottish fetish, and kilts have been in ever since.

The “traditional modern” kilt (pictured) is short (let’s see some knee, gentlemen) and tidy with shiny buckles here and there.

The “contemporary kilt” has traded in the tartan for pockets, more like cargo pants than Highland dress.

When and Where:

Specific tartan patterns are designated for different clans (Mackay, MacAndrews, etc.) and, these days, the kilt is most often worn for celebrations and formal occasions, but thanks to the madness of George III, the kilt can be worn anywhere, anytime, by anyone.

Accessories and Pronunciation guide:

The sporran (sounds like “He’s pourin’ whiskey!”), is the man-purse to go with the man-skirt. Traditionally to carry oats for lunch, it now conveniently holds cell phone, keys, and superfluous undergarments (which are good to have on hand in case a cold wind blows away your pride).

The sgian dubh (pronounce “ski an’ do”) is the “black knife”, hidden from the authorities but worn visible in the sock when amongst friends.

The kilt pin (pronounced “kilt pin”) weighs down the corner of the kilt to protect Gus from gusts and avoid those Marilyn Monroe moments.

Flashes (it’s not what you think) are the fabric wrapped around the knee to hold up the socks and the sgian dubh.

What’s up my kilt?

Ask your sister.

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