An IMM-Permanent Resident'

Staged at The Theatre Centre

Staged at The Theatre Centre

Joe Szekeres

Immigration and its phobias, paranoia and fears become comic fodder in ‘An IMM-Permanent Resident’.

I’ve been involved in some ‘heated’ discussions with others surrounding immigration issues. Can it boil down to a simple understanding of completing all the proper legal documentation and waiting patiently (read ‘forever in here) versus those individuals who for whatever reason can bypass all this and arrive at a country quicker?

I don’t think immigration can be examined in a simple manner given the state of our world affairs right now.

The collaborative producing model RISER tackles this issue of immigration in staging ‘An IMM-Permanent Resident’ at Why Not Theatre and, through a comic lens, examines what Director/Sound Designer Miquelon Rodriguez calls: “the pattern of incoming immigrants who are instantly accepted versus those who are constantly scrutinized, questioned, interrogated or accused of lying or having incomplete paperwork even when it is complete.”

Frustrating, unnerving, and infuriating for those who play the game, that is a given.

However, can comedy successfully be used to heighten this tension? Director Rodriquez held that responsible task in his hands.

And he achieved it. It’s done well here for the most part with real life husband and wife writers and performers Neha Poduval and Himanshu Sitlani.

It’s theatre in the round as we enter the auditorium. The playing space is lower than the seating area. Jung-Hye Kim’s set design remains functionally simple for the actors. There are props neatly positioned around the stage and nothing appears messy or askew. Neatly packaged and taped boxes become a dance floor at one point and a beach setting at another. Suitcases full of further clothing props, file folders are all within easy reach of Poduval and Sitlani. To my ear it sounded like South Asian pop music underscored the top of the show without becoming overpowering.

André du Toit’s lighting design finely encapsulates the varied settings (except for a rampant, flickering lighting effect that wouldn’t shut off for a few minutes). Rodriguez’s sound designs are never distracting from the plot action.

‘An IMM-Permanent Resident’ deals with Sitlani and Poduval trying to get her Permanent Resident’s Status here in Canada. It took the couple three years and filling out three full rounds of Neha’s paperwork.
Wow! I can’t even begin to fathom how a government official who is supposed to be trained in dealing with immigration can muck up a process three times, THREE TIMES! (Oh wait, we’re talking about the civil service. That’s fodder for another discussion or play. Neha and Himanshu, are you up for that task as well? 😉)

The successful impact of this piece lies in the writing and the performances. I wasn’t disappointed at all. Poduvual and Sitlani are genuine, likeable, solid, and confident performers who understand the importance of comic timing in the face of serious issues and deliver them appropriately. There were two moments where I laughed out loud because they were truly funny.

The first occurred where Neha and Himanshu arrive from India at Pearson Airport with his mother and sister waiting. Neha assumed they would all be taking a taxi back to her mother in law’s house. Oh, no, they had to take the TTC from subway to at least three streetcars. The Benny Hill music added a great deal of amusement to the scene. (Am I old in stating people might not know who is Benny Hill? Oh, well, for those individuals who have no idea who he is, You Tube him to hear his theme music).

I also laughed out loud at the paper pushing moment at Canada Immigration office. Cleverly handled and executed. Well done. At the talk back, someone in the audience mentioned that employees of CIC should see this production. I concur wholeheartedly with that statement.

What also makes this piece work is the balance of comedy with some effective dramatic moments especially with Neha as she becomes a saint in waiting so patiently and doing what she needs to do so she can have permanent resident status here. Her heart-to-heart mounting disappointment with what is occurring becomes strongly worded.

The one slight quibble I did have comes from the theatre in the round seating. It is effective as it allows the audience to see all the action from different angles and that is a bonus.

The challenge here came when either Neha or Himanshu had their backs to me and were staged facing another part of the audience. I could not hear a word from either of them as their voices sounded muffled so I had to trust that I would glean what was just said. I really hope this issue could be addressed for remaining performances as I really wanted to hear what was being said all the time.

Final Comments: At the talkback I learned the idea for the play came from a short story about this time. Both Neha and Himanshu wanted to focus on the funny and the amusing.

Himanshu pointed out this story is a personal one for both he and his wife. Their energy to perform the piece comes from hearing the live audience in front of them. They don’t believe that this piece would not be as effective digitally because that third element, the live audience, would be missing. Again, I concur with both of them.

‘An IMM-Permanent’s wit and humour uniquely juxtaposes the sometimes stale and formal world of the civil service. The play brought a smile to my face. I’m glad I came to see it.”

Performance runs approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.

Performances continue to April 10 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West

AN IMM-Permanent Resident’ written and performed by Neha Poduval and Himanshu Sitlani
Produced by Nautanki Bazaar and presented as part of Toronto’s Why Not Theatre

Directed by Miquelon Rodriguez
Lighting by André du Toit
Set and Costume Design by Jung-Hye Kim
For tickets, call the Box Office 416-538-0988 or visit https://tickets.theatrecentre.org/TheatreManager/1/tmEvent/tmEvent331.html

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