A Brimful of Asha: Too Much Talk Show and Not Enough Theatre

Brianna McFarlane

                Readers be warned: if you really enjoyed A Brimful of Asha, written and performed by Ravi and Asha Jain, at Ottawa’s 2013 Magnetic North Theatre Festival, you may want to stop reading now. It’s ok, it’s easy to see why people love this show so much: it’s charming, a barrelful of laughs, and, hey, they give out free samosas during the pre-show. However, due to an extreme lack of movement within the piece, I left the theatre confused as to why this show was a part of MNTF’s line up.

Playing on the New Ottawa Critics’ home turf, the University of Ottawa’s Academic Hall, A Brimful of Asha is the true story of Ravi’s dispute with his mother Asha (who is, in fact, played by his real mother and not a professional actor) about his reluctance to get married. Though both living in Canada, Asha holds on to her Indian roots and would see her son married according to her family’s tradition i.e. an arranged marriage. Ravi, being somewhat of a black sheep for having chosen to pursue the performing arts instead of taking over his father’s business, would much rather take his own time and choose his own bride. Over the course of the show we hear both sides of the story and by the end we see Ravi and his mother reach some sort of understanding about one another.

Walking into Academic Hall you are immediately greeted by either Ravi or Asha and offered a fresh samosa; there is no denying the warm and inclusive atmosphere they have created. The stage, by set designer Julie Fox, is done up almost like a television talk show: a rich orange curtain, with a small screen hanging in the middle, plays backdrop to a kitchen table and two chairs set on a decorative Persian rug. The projections, designed by Beth Kates, are effective in keeping track of the many locales introduced to the audience. The lighting, also by Kates, doesn’t change very much except for maybe a couple of instances in which it’s used to highlight a specific moment in Ravi and Asha’s dispute. The minimal technical effects ensure that your attention is always on the story.

The piece was directed by Ravi who is also the Artistic Director of his theatre company, Why Not Theatre, which is, according to the program, “committed to exploring new forms of storytelling” and that is “deeply invested in thelanguage of physical movement”. I did not see this in A Brimful of Asha. What I did see is two people sitting at a table for an hour and a half talking at the audience. I felt like I was at the live taping of the Ravi Jain show. Once the show begins, Asha sits in the chair on stage left and does not move for the entire show. Ravi leaves his chair onstage right occasionally in order to indicate something to the audience or hand the story off to his mother. The largest cross in the show happens when Ravi leaves the stage towards to end of the show to fetch his “binders of women”. Considering how Magnetic North looks to celebrate the “very best” in Canadian theatre, this show left me extremely disappointed.

Yes, the story and Asha Jain are very charming and relatable, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the static quality of the piece.  Maybe had this show been presented in a smaller, more intimate, space (for example: Studio Leonard Beaulne or the basement of the campus bar the Royal Oak on Laurier St.), I would have felt different. However, I’m sorry to say, in Academic Hall the authenticity of the piece just didn’t reach me in the back rows of the audience. Having an endearing story is good, but it’s not sufficient for a festival that tries to celebrate excellence in the performing arts. I expect excellent theatre to move me in some way and/or show me a new perspective. Unfortunately, with A Brimful of Asha I was left wanting more.