HERE AND NOW
Ross Street Temple Community Annex, 8000 Ross St.
Surrey Arts Centre Studio Theatre
Another Indo-Canadian gang killing is about to take place. Another young man has gotten so deeply involved in guns and drugs that he’ll never get out. Another family is about to mourn its losses and wonder, “How could this happen?”
Ripped straight from today’s headlines, Here and Now is a “forum” play from Headlines Theatre, created through workshops in the Indo-Canadian community, cast with mostly non-professional actors from that community, involving the audience in helping to brainstorm solutions to the problems the play dramatizes.
The short play tells the story of Jay (Shawn Cheema) and his sister Sonya (Natasha Ali Wilson), first-generation Canadians alienated from their father (Raminder Thind), whose old-country attitudes in the home eventually lead to Jay’s being seduced into the gangster life by tough guys Sunny (Seth Ranaweera) and Kam (Jagdeep Singh Mangat). Jay’s mother (Jas Grewal) and grandmother (Balinder Johal) are helpless to stop what looks like the inevitable tragedy.
But Headlines assumes that the plots of our lives can be changed so they ask us to change the plot of the play, which is performed a second time. Headlines artistic director David Diamond asks the audience to yell “stop” anytime anyone thinks they have an idea about something a character might do differently to change the outcome of a scene. The action then stops, the audience member goes onstage and takes the place of an actor, and the other actors improvise the altered scene around the new idea.
The night I attended, seven or eight audience members intervened at different points. Almost all the interventions took the form of “let’s talk about these things that we never talk about” or “let’s try to be reasonable.” These suggestions seemed more practical in the arguments within the home than in the gangster scenes where a gun was being held to someone’s head or their family was being threatened with retribution.
But such deep-rooted, complex problems are obviously not going to be solved in two hours in a theatre. The idea is to get people thinking about the issues and realizing, through acting out and not just talking about the situations, that change might be possible. This is all about social process, not artistic product.
Artistically, Here and Now is not great theatre. The acting is extremely uneven, although powerful and affecting in places. The “forum” itself sometimes made me squirm because Diamond, while skillfully conducting his exercise in theatrical democracy, acts like a puppet master, physically moving people around, insisting we play by his rules, his exaggerated gestures and body language reminiscent of a TV evangelist.
But the work being done here is tremendously important because it doesn’t end when the lights come up. I found myself talking about nothing but this play the next morning.