bat bat­tles

NOW Magazine - - STAGE -

The men in whiTe by Anosh Irani (Fac­tory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Runs to Novem­ber 4. $20-$50. 416-504-9971. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 29. Rat­ing: nnn

Anosh Irani’s Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Award­nom­i­nated new play about a strug­gling Cana­dian cricket team at­tempts an ambi- tious bal­ance be­tween hu­mour and dark re­al­i­ties – with mixed re­sults.

The story is deeply rel­e­vant, jux­ta­pos­ing two dis­tinct worlds: Hasan (Chanakya Mukher­jee) is a poor In­dian butcher with an adorable crush who dreams of mak­ing a name for him­self in cricket as an “all-rounder.” Mean­while his brother, Ab­dul (Gu­gun Deep Singh), plays for a Van­cou­ver cricket team strug­gling for the re­spect of its peers, but lives in con­stant fear of de­por­ta­tion. When Hasan’s sur­ro­gate fa­ther, Baba (Huse Mad­havji), hears of the cricket team’s plan to bring Hasan to Canada to help them win, he ques­tions whether Ab­dul’s Cana­dian life is bet­ter. In the au­di­ence, so do we.

Com­edy is a tricky way in which to tell this com­plex story, and this pro­duc­tion doesn’t al­ways hit the right note. Of the two threads, the hu­mour arises nat­u­rally from Mukher­jee’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Hasan: his at­tempts to woo Haseena (Tahirih Ve­j­dani) are foiled each time she sees through him, ex­as­per­at­ing and hu­mil­i­at­ing him, mak­ing him pos­ture harder still.

By con­trast, the slap­stick hu­mour of team­mates Ram and Sam (Farid Yaz­dani and John Chou) is al­most en­tirely with­out con­text. We get a short back­story about why Sam, the son of Chi­nese im­mi­grants, but no sense of Ram’s his­tory, and so their plays for at­ten­tion seem forced and hol­low.

As the per­sonal rev­e­la­tions and con­flicts of the oth­ers sur­face, Sam’s dis­rup­tive jokes and child­ish phys­i­cal­ity seem in­creas­ingly jar­ring.

Philip Akin’s di­rec­tion may aim for this alien­at­ing ef­fect, but a starker con­trast be­tween Hasan’s nar­ra­tive and Ab­dul’s team­mates would al­low Irani’s fi­nal twist to land more pow­er­fully.

While the group chem­istry of the cricket team feels stiff, in­di­vid­u­ally the cast is strong. Mukher­jee’s de­pic­tion of Hasan feels con­sis­tently spon­ta­neous and gen­uine, while Singh’s por­trayal of Ab­dul’s al­ter­nat­ing tough­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity has a grounded, com­pelling qual­ity. De­signer Steve Lucas’s use of the bat­ting cage to frame the stage is sim­ple but ef­fec­tive, sug­gest­ing the lit­eral per­spec­tive of a cricket player, but also the emo­tional and po­lit­i­cal res­o­nance of struc­tures used to cage peo­ple in, and walls to keep oth­ers out.

Irani of­fers a much-needed twist on the im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence with a story that re­quires fi­ness­ing but has an un­de­ni­able poignancy. lisA mCkeown

Huse Mad­havji (left), Tahirih Ve­j­dani and Chanakya Mukher­jee de­liver win­ning per­for­mances.

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