Theatre Review – Anoush Irani’s My Granny the Goldfish

The more playwrights coming out of Canada’s ethnic communities, the happier I am. They are truly the new Canada, reflecting the fact that we are an immigrant population. That being said, a flawed production can chip away at the enjoyment factor.

My Granny the Goldfish by Vancouver’s Anoush Irani seems to be a crowd pleaser. In truth, Irani has some very funny lines which elicited waves of laughter from the audience. Here’s an example. His granny is complaining that Canadians state the obvious, such as, “Madam, this is an airport!”, when she is standing in the airport. A further conversation reveals that she was smoking a cigarette at the time.

Irani’s picture of a dysfunctional South Asian family is also amusing because it is atypical. Vancouver business student Nico (Kawa Ada) is a hypochondriac, but at the start of the play, he does have something to worry about – a lump on his back. He has just had a biopsy. Back in Bombay, where his family lives in the red light district, his father (Sanjay Talwar) is a bookie, and his mother (Veena Sood) is an alcoholic. Granny (Yolande Bavan) also likes to tipple scotch. As the play opens, Granny has made a surprise visit to Vancouver. The first act scenes cut between Nico’s hospital room and his parents’ Bombay apartment.

The audience seemed to be enjoying the play more than I was. While I did chuckle at Irani’s dialogue, the play’s structure is flawed. We never do find out why granny and mother drink, for example. As well, director Rosemary Dunsmore has granny constantly in motion, and for no reason. At the other end of the scale, mother and father are rooted on a small couch. In the second act, when Nico’s parents arrive in the hospital room, there is little coherence in the stage action. John Thompson’s set of the two scenes beside each other is functional enough, but there are inconsistencies. The parent’s television is miles away from the couch. While the curtain separating Nico from his roommate is logical, the position of the unseen third patient make no sense.

Another problem is the pacing. Just like music, acting has rhythm. Only Ada seemed to be up to speed. Talwar, a seasoned actor, is given mostly reactive lines of bluster. The burden of the dialogue falls to Bavan and Sood. They are the drivers, and while the women do nail the characters, their halting delivery, particularly Bavan, is painful. It felt like Bavan was having trouble remembering her lines, and Sood was deliberately putting in pauses. It’s hard to give in to the rhythm of a play when it’s not there. Bad pacing can sink a production.

As for the very talented Ada, he literally saves the show. This young actor deserves more exposure on a national level. As for Irani, let’s hope his next production has better theatrical values.

My Granny the Goldfish, written by Anoush Irani, (featuring Kawa Ada, Yolande Bavan, Veena Sood and Sanjay Talwar, directed by Rosemary Dunsmore), Factory Theatre, Mar. 17 to Apr. 15, 2012.)