Mrs. Kr­ish­nan dishes out laughs and food

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

Aby Janet Smith

uck­land ac­tor Kalyani Na­gara­jan has some clear ad­vice for au­di­ence mem­bers at­tend­ing the ram­bunc­tious, curry-fu­elled Kiwi play called Mrs. Kr­ish­nan’s Party.

“Be ready for a party. Don’t be shy,” she be­gins over the phone from a sunny morn­ing on New Zealand’s North Is­land. “You’re go­ing to have a good time. You’re go­ing to en­joy your­self. You’re go­ing to want to call your mom. Also, don’t come too full.”

If that doesn’t sound like the usual prepa­ra­tion for a night out at the theatre… Well, Mrs. Kr­ish­nan’s Party is not a usual night out at the theatre. The com­edy is an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence that in­vites its au­di­ence to a din­ner cel­e­bra­tion, of­fer­ing spots right at the ta­ble, plus stand­ing room and nearby seat­ing.

In the fun-lov­ing yet bit­ter­sweet cre­ation from In­dian Ink Theatre Com­pany, Na­gara­jan’s ti­tle char­ac­ter

Kalyani Ma­gara­jan plays the ti­tle char­ac­ter in Mrs. Kr­ish­nan’s Party.

con­tem­plates sell­ing her con­ve­nience store—bet­ter known as a “dairy” in New Zealand. Her hus­band was shot dur­ing a rob­bery there over two decades ago, and she’s been run­ning it alone, as a sin­gle mother, ever since. But her boarder James, a young Maori DJ, de­cides to throw her a party cel­e­brat­ing Onam—the In­dian har­vest fes­ti­val fet­ing life, death, and re­birth—and the au­di­ence mem­bers play the party guests for the event in the cor­ner shop’s back room.

“She’s still griev­ing and this is about her fac­ing her demons,” Na­gara­jan ex­plains. “James is putting it right in front of her and say­ing, ‘You need to face this. Some grief has to hap­pen for you to re­ally change.’ ”

Amid all this, there’s a lot of laugh­ter—and a lot of cross-cul­tural fun, says Na­gara­jan, who ex­plains the show reaches far be­yond the South Asian com­mu­nity with its in­ter­gen­er­a­tional tale.

“It’s ter­ri­fy­ing,” ad­mits the ac­tor with a hearty laugh, adding that only about 60 per­cent of the ac­tion is scripted. “It’s dif­fer­ent ev­ery night. We warm up and me and my co-ac­tor Justin [Rogers] say, ‘Oh shit, there’s noth­ing else we can do to pre­pare!’ It’s au­di­ence-de­pen­dent—which both a bless­ing and a curse.”

At least Na­gara­jan doesn’t have to stretch too far out of her com­fort zone to play Mrs. Kr­ish­nan: cre­ators Jacob Ra­jan and Justin Lewis drew heaps of in­spi­ra­tion from her own South Asian mother.

“This char­ac­ter has been in de­vel­op­ment for seven years now, and a lot comes from my own ex­pe­ri­ence from my In­dian aun­ties and my mom,” says Na­gara­jan, who dons false teeth and glasses to take on the older char­ac­ter. “So I’m pretty much tak­ing the piss out of my mother, but with a lot of heart and a lot of in­tegrity.”

Aside from her act­ing skills, Na­gara­jan is putting to use the culi­nary tal­ents she honed liv­ing with her fam­ily, which hails from Madras.

“Cook­ing is some­thing I grew up with; cook­ing is my sec­ond-big­gest pas­sion af­ter theatre,” ex­plains Na­gara­jan, who makes her tra­di­tional dahl through­out the play. “When we were build­ing the show, we knew we wanted the au­di­ence to have food to build com­mu­nity. You see that with ev­ery cul­ture: to build com­mu­nity you need food. The cool thing about the show is it’s hap­pen­ing in real time, and all the drama hap­pens within one hour.”

That means Na­gara­jan is jug­gling a lot over the course of a highly mul­ti­sen­sory, fam­ily-friendly hour, from burn­ing in­cense to blow­ing up bal­loons and mix­ing in­gre­di­ents.

“You re­ally have to be on as a per­former. But it’s also great, be­cause you don’t get lazy,” says Na­gara­jan, also en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to bring their kids. “Then, at the end of the show, peo­ple hang around for 45 min­utes talk­ing and con­nect­ing. And that’s ex­actly what you want theatre to do.”

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