Theatre review: A Brimful of Asha is full of love

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Real-life son and daugher, Ravi and Asha Jain, in A Brimful of Asha. Photo by Erin Brubacher.

And you thought Catholic guilt was a powerful force? Wait until you get a load of Indian. But even with its healthy helping of parental guilt, it is the love between mother and son that brings A Brimful of Asha near to over-flowing.

Warmly welcoming us as we enter the Arts Club Revue Stage, Ravi Jain and his mother Asha invite us all to enjoy a samosa, aromatically displayed on a kitchen table on the stage that is to become their battleground for the next 90 minutes.  The welcome feels so genuine that it is as if walking into their own home, and like so many cultures that are bound by food and kitchen tables, is a perfect introduction to what we are about to see.

Real-life son and daugher, Ravi and Asha Jain, in A Brimful of Asha. Photo by Erin Brubacher.

Real-life son and daugher, Ravi and Asha Jain, in A Brimful of Asha. Photo by Erin Brubacher.

Written by mother and son, A Brimful of Asha recounts the true events of a trip that Ravi made to India in 2007.  Originally intended as a vacation with a little work thrown in, the trip gets hijacked as his parents try to arrange a marriage for the then 27-year old son. As the duo recounts the story from their own generational and cultural lenses, they invite the audience to decide who is right: the Indian-born mother who says she cannot live her own dreams until she sees her son married, or the Canadian-born son who wants to marry for love and with someone he has “known for at least six months”.

By way of introduction Asha confesses  that she is not an actor (“I am a dedicated housewife and abused mother” she says instead).  But even as that fact becomes evident quickly, there is a genuine openness in defending her convictions that draws you in even as she sometimes struggles to get her words out.  A theatre artist, Ravi’s delivery is more natural and therefore more successful in the conversational tone of the show and his skill even goes as far as to gently help his mother.  There is also an underlying slyness between the two at times, but it comes across as much about respect and love as it is about a knowing wink in knowing how clever they are.

And the two are very clever, having constructed a show that is surprisingly engaging and at times very, very funny.  Ravi plays a great straight man as his mother interrupts (“We can’t consider you dead until you get married” she says at one point).

But the underlying theme here is respect and love.  Cultural and generational differences are discussed rationally and in fits of rage, with soft hearts and sharp tongues.  Asha provides us with a peek into her life that includes an arranged marriage that went from introduction to engagement in just three days, and even while she persists in her quest to marry off her son, and he so adamantly resists, it is done from a special place between mother and son.

So full of love, A Brimful of Asha will warm your insides even more than the samosas.

Four stars A Brimful of Asha

Written and performed by Asha and Ravi Jain.  A Why Not Theatre production presented by the Arts Club Theatre Company and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.  On stage at the Arts Club Revue Stage on Granville Island through February 8, 2014.  Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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