MRS. SINGH & ME
— Production poster
Munish Sharma and South Asian Arts have put together a Fringe show that’s both audience-pleasing funny and a serious account of intra-cultural, intergenerational tensions within what might be called “the South Asian community.”
The opening few minutes are uncomfortably farcical. The discomfort arises from a kidnapping scenario; the farce tells us not to worry about the situation. Playwright Sharma is the kidnapper, Raj. His victim, Mrs. Singh (Nimet Kanji), is his girlfriend’s mother.
The two have lots in common—a love for chai and cookies, Bollywood movies and Mrs. Singh’s daughter, Sanya. Trouble is, Mrs. Singh has ordered her to break off with Raj. Why? Because they’re Sikh and he’s Hindu.
About midway through the hour the farce gets set aside for a serious debate between the two. Mrs. Singh is the traditionalist, the first-generation immigrant who believes in total parental authority, arranged marriages and the importance of remaining within one’s narrowly defined culture and religion. Raj is the modernist, the second generation who believes that love and liberal western values should trump ethnic and religious differences.
Sharma gives them both strong arguments. Mrs. Singh: “You want me to give up the only identity I ever had?” Raj: “You are Canadian!” Raj’s position resonates more strongly with me, and he has what is for me the play’s most powerful line: “I didn’t know I could be the wrong kind of brown.” But the play doesn’t trivialize either one.
One of the things I took away from the show was the realization of how easily we tend to essentialize communities other than our own. This play suggests that the differences within the “South Asian community” are as significant as those between it and non-South Asians.
The physical comedy is mostly fun, though it tends to get silly as such comedy does. The actors and director Kathleen Duborg work hard at keeping up the momentum, but the play spends too much time being coy about what Raj is doing with Mrs. Singh. Kanji is a very good comic actor who cracks up the audience with lines like, “You are a gangbanger – it’s not a healthy lifestyle!” She also provides a strong, committed sense of Mrs. Singh’s convictions when the argument gets serious. Sharma’s Raj matches her line for line in those latter sections, which is where this piece really sizzles for me.