'Counter Offence' by Rahul Varma
Onstage at Montreal's Segal Centre for the Performing Arts
Courtesy of Teesri Duniya Theatre's Facebook page. L-R: Arash Ebrahimi, Oliver Price and Howard Rosenstein
A highly complex drama of integrity and grit.
It is the mid-nineties in Québec. ‘Counter Offence’ follows the story of Shazia (Amanda Silveira), an Indo-Québec woman caught in an abusive marriage with Shapoor (Arash Ebrahimi), an Iranian man who deals with parental problems and immigration concerns. Shazia’s mother, Shafiqa (Ambica Sharma) and father Murad (Andrew Joseph Richardson) are at their daughter’s side during her ordeal.
Shapoor is arrested on domestic violence charges by Sgt. Galliard (Oliver Price), a Québec police officer. Galliard shows his true colours in how he feels about what Shapoor has done. Moolchand (Aladeen Tawfeek) a lawyer/activist comes to Shapoor’s defence by accusing Galliard of racism. Clarinda Keith (Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards), a social worker, defends Galliard even though the Québec police are noticeably racist against people of colour to support the voices of vulnerable women. Ultimately a dramatic turn of events occurs which changes the lives of these characters. There was a talkback after the show, and I stayed because I wanted to hear both what the playwright had to say and what the other audience members were thinking.
The audience sits on opposite ends of the auditorium with the action taking place in the centre. The stage is divided into smaller playing spaces from Gilles Prougault’s office to Shapoor’s holding/prison cell to Clarinda Keith’s office. The play is set in the mid-nineties as there is a reference to then Québec premier Jacques Parizeau’s racist incendiary comment of the reason why the 1995 provincial referendum did not sway on account of the ethnic vote.
As the play moves forward, the actors sometimes will sit on stage left in chairs.
Playwright Rahul Varma’s script is part courtroom drama. At times, the transition seemed clearly obvious. At others, I wanted to see a bit more of the personal drama playing out first. Periodically, the characters break the fourth wall and speak to the audience as if they are in a courtroom. It appears as if the audience becomes the jury trying to make sense of and get to the truth of what happened.
The audience sits on opposite sides of the auditorium with the story’s action taking place in the centre. Marie-Ève Fortier has nicely designed the front of where the audience sits as the jury box. Aurora Torok’s lighting design effectively spotlights those individual scenes with a clear focus. Since the play takes place in the mid-nineties, Diana Uribe has selected appropriate contemporary clothing of the time period.
Playwright Rahul Varma has written a highly charged edge-of-the-seat drama that kept me focused to the end. Murdoch Schon’s direction remains assuredly clear throughout. The tight-knit ensemble cast offers uniformly solid and believable performances.
The topic of racism not only in Québec but in any province is a complex and troubling one for other underlying associated issues. Schon points this out in the Director’s Note when Schon stated: “Counter Offence is not a single-issue play [as it cannot be reduced]…to shrink the enormity of what [the play] grapples with. Varma writes in his Programme Note the play: “addresses the struggle for justice at the intersection of race, gender and culture simultaneously.”
Indeed, with this background, it becomes extremely important to keep our eyes and ears always open and try to get as clear of a picture as we can.
It’s not easy to always do this during the performance because the language gets nasty and hurtful.
Arash Ebrahimi is a tortured Shapoor who credibly showed he wants to make amends with Shazia, but can he be trusted? Amanda Silveira’s performance singlehandedly made that clear to me he can’t, and I bought it. Anytime a man raises his hand to a woman is the last time he will raise a hand to her, and I was pleased both Andrew Joseph Richardson and Ambica Sharma supported this in their performances as the parents.
Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards quietly assumes her strength of character as Clarinda in her interactions with Shazia and Guy Galliard. Oliver Price’s Guy is a hard-hitting and in-your-face brutal police officer. Yes, Guy’s heart is in the right place when he believes violence against any woman is wrong; however, to hear the language he uses when speaking to someone from another race is difficult and awful to hear. I persevered nevertheless and let him tell me what he wanted to say. Howard Rosenstein is a tough-as-nails Gilles Prougault who does his best to ensure he can keep Guy from losing his job.
Aladeeen Tawfeek delivers a trustworthy performance as Moolchand. I truly believed he wants to help Shapoor at all costs. Even when Shapoor declares he shouldn’t have behaved as he did with Shazia, Tawfeek’s Moolchand becomes that strong parental figure Shapoor so desperately craves that is lacking from his own life.
The surprise at the end of the play certainly made me do a double-take. That’s why I wanted to stay and hear what Rahul Varma had to say.
Final Comments: The production closes on April 2.
Go see it for the strong ensemble work.
Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
The production runs until April 2 in the Studio Theatre at Montréal’s Segal Centre for the Performing Arts, 5170 de la cote Ste. Catherine, Montréal, Québec. For tickets, call (514) 739-7944.
TEESRI DUNIYA THEATRE presents
COUNTER OFFENCE by Rahul Varma
Director: Murdoch Schon
Stage Manager: Ava Bishop,
Set Designer: Marie-Ève Fortier
Costume Designer: Diana Uribe
Lighting Designer: Aurora Torok
Sound Designer: Violette Kay
Performers: Arash Ebrahimi, Oliver Price, AndrewJoseph Richardson, Howard Rosenstein, Ambica Sharma, Amanda Silveira Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards, Aladeen Tawfeek