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.