'The Rishta' by Uzma Jalaluddin. Presented by Silk Road Theatre
Now onstage at Montreal's Centaur Theatre
Now onstage at Montreal's Centaur Theatre
This committed six-person ‘Rishta’ (‘suitor’ in Hindi/Urdu) cast does its best to highlight an important theme. No matter what race, religion, or culture, we are not at all different when it comes to the dynamics of family relationships. Sometimes Uzma Jalaluddin’s scripted comedy works, and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s potential here, and I hope some creative choices made will be looked at again going forward.
I wanted to come away from ‘The Rishta’ by having a good laugh and learning something in the process. I accomplished one of the two. I learned something about marriage from another culture, but I really wished I could have laughed more than I did.
Set in Montréal, ‘The Rishta’ centres on young South Asian McGill student Samah (Eman Ayaz) who falls in love with her Moroccan classmate, Hussain, whom we never meet. Hussain has proposed to Samah in a Starbucks coffee shop. She has accepted his proposal without the consent of her parents Jamal (Ivan Smith) and Arifa (Sehar Manji) who will probably not agree to an intercultural marriage. To help ease this possible conflict with them, Samah hires enterprising matchmaker Badra (Nora Guerch) to find three potentially terrible ‘rishtas’ (all played by Subhan Aref). When these three suitors are deemed unworthy of Samah, she believes her parents would be accepting of her new husband, Hussain. We also meet Samah’s brother, Kamran (Adolyn H. Dar), five years older than his sister. Kamran lives in the basement of his parent’s home. His parents would also like their son married and out of the house too.
The comical plot action focuses on this family trying to maintain evolving religious and sacred traditions while also hiding secrets from each other.
Let’s start by looking at the potential of the play. Some choices made by the creative team worked beautifully.
Nadine Jaafar’s set design combined with Darah Miah’s lighting design is quite lovely with its eye-catching array of colours and textures. This combination of artistic designs nicely showcased the setting of an upscale family home with comfortable-looking furniture and a picture of Mecca on the wall. Again, the colour selection of Georges Michael Fanfan’s costumes works well. Rehan Lalani’s selection of pre-show music never overpowers as the audience enters the auditorium.
Director Masha Bashmakova has instilled a vision of pride in this not-so-perfect family (whose is, anyway?). The family only wants the best for each other. This hard-working cast kept this vision in focus throughout so that’s extremely important.
Putting this vision into practice is the next logical step. It is here where ‘The Rishta’ struggles.
There’s an old theatre adage: ‘Dying is easy, comedy is hard.’ How true this is. I’ve seen many live-stage comedies where the actors sweat profusely. Why? There is a great deal of work involved both in rehearsals and performances to maintain that rapid fire and sometimes zany delivery crucially needed for comedy.
That doesn’t happen here in this production as some choices made by Bashmakova puzzled me.
For one, actor enunciation is a big problem and it should have been caught during rehearsals. There were moments when I could not hear the actors excluding Adolyn H. Dar. I know I missed some crucial dialogue regarding the plot. For example, when exuberant matchmaker Badra first enters I did not hear a word she said to Samah. At one point, I heard someone behind me turned to the person sitting next to them and said: “What did she say?”
Actors, please keep enunciation in mind as performances continue as it can make or break a live show.
As the family prepares for Badra’s visit, there is a lot of running around the living room tidying things up. Here is one moment where the actors could have shown the required zaniness at a breakneck, but controlled comic speed. That doesn’t happen here, and I was really hoping that could have been on display.
Instead, an excellent zinger made up for this lack of physical comedy. At one point, one of the prayer mats for this Muslim family is tossed to the side momentarily and then haphazardly placed on the ground. In a silent perfect glance at his mother that hinted at him saying ‘Really?’, Kamran takes the prayer mat and neatly places it on the carpet facing the picture of Mecca on the wall. The audience roared with laughter. I had a smile on my face because that’s the kind of comic setup needed for this show.
The actors deliver likeable performances when I could hear them. Eman Ayaz made me smile as Kamran’s kooky kid sister and central character, Samah. Ivan Smith and Sehar Manji are adorable as Samah and Kamran’s parents. I laughed out loud at the music to which they were dancing when we first meet them. I found this initial secret funnier than the one the parents have kept from their children for years.
Adolyn H. Dar’s Kamran just instinctively knew about vocal control and clear enunciation so kudos to him. I’m a tad puzzled why he plays video games behind the scrim at the top of the show when he didn’t need to do that. The scrim created too much physical distance as the audience needs to connect with the characters.
Since the title of the play is named after his characters, Subhan Aref has quite a task ahead of him. He must create three uniquely different buffoonish characters in voice, costume, and stance. Fanfan’s costumes on Aref made me pay attention to him. I just wish I could have heard Aref more. Nora Guerch becomes that visually colourful and larger-than-life outdated matchmaker Badra. Yet there are several moments of rushed and muffled line delivery where I lost everything said.
Final Comments: I hope the creative team behind ‘The Rishta’ will return to the script after this run at the Centaur. There’s potential here that can truly make this play an amusing comical story.
Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
‘The Rishta’ runs until April 8 at Montréal’s Centaur Theatre, 453 St. Francois Xavier Street in Old Montreal. For tickets, visit https://www.silkroadinstitute.ca/therishta.
SILK ROAD THEATRE presents
‘The Rishta’ by Uzma Jalaluddin
Directed by Masha Bashmakova
Set Designer: Nadine Jaafar
Costume Designer: Georges Michael Fanfan
Lighting Designer: Darah Miah
Sound Designe: Rehan Lalani
Stage Manager: Georgia Holland