Charming Play Tactfully Delves Into Tensions Between Generations

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The Ashby Stage, only 2 miles from Cal, might as well be an entire world away from the bustle of midterms, papers and controversial tree-sitters, all three of which habitually cause a ruckus on our campus. But within the walls of this intimate, simple and shamelessly modest venue, the lone black stage catapulted a homespun anecdote into the charmingly personal production of "Mirrors of Mumbai," a story which undoubtedly hits close to home with the Indian and Indian-American students at Berkeley and around the Bay Area.

The play, set in Mumbai, serves up quintessential present-day conflicts between generations with an emphasis on the Hindi religion. But even though the characters reside in India and make constant reference to Indian culture, the frustration occasionally transcends knowledge of Southeast Asian society. Reya Sehgal, as daughter Preeti, portrays teenage detachment brilliantly, with omnipresent eye-rolls and gossipy cell phone chitchat. She struggles with her father Piyush (Uday Joshi) over her future career; his parental pride urges her into a life of vocal performance that she'd rather replace with a banal but satisfying desk job. Tradition, however, seeps into her routine anyway because of the family's hurried preparation for Diwali. As the play progresses, Diwali becomes more of a cumbersome, guilt-ridden ritual to her and to her family rather than an abundant celebration. Her adolescent confusion climaxes in well-placed musical interludes that flaunt the vocal talent her father is so proud of; Sehgal's clear soprano and Joshi's steady baritone unite in a haunting, woeful duet.

Old and new values clash between other characters, too. Jasu Ba (Shruti S. Tewari), the elder of the bunch, argues with her computer-savvy son Chetan (Miguel Garcia) about moving from her beloved Mumbai to America, where abundant healthcare and cleaner housing await her. Their interaction, however, falls short of the sensitive emotional bond between parent and child evident between Preeti and Piyush. Meanwhile, hesitant Rekha (Nitya Venkateswaran) contemplates life outside the sari, an idea long-since embraced by her free-spirited friend Helen (Ritu Marwah).

Scriptwriter Sonal Acharya peppers the dialogue with comedic interplay, which lightens the darkness of familial disunity. One such moment is the ironic discussion of "accent neutralization," since Preeti is set on answering phones at a call bank rather than singing at the upcoming Diwali festival and allowing her father to live vicariously through her imminent success. And maid Kamala (Vicki Zabarte) plays submissive fiddle around the conflicted family but delivers punchy, bittersweet monologues about her past in Bombay when left alone with the audience.

Music director George Brooks composed an eclectic live score, mixing traditional Indian melodies, drums, and wooden flutes with ever-so-Westernized jazz instruments and even a subtle reference to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Many of the actors showcase traditional Indian dances, which flowed beautifully with the musical accompaniment. "Mirrors" also integrates symbolic fables and flourishes added by director Susannah Wood, including the "Paradox Tale of the Three Nonexistent Princes." These parables act as a creative but somewhat cryptic outlet for the theme of self-reflection and self-discovery, since the characters never reference the stories in the dialogue.

Aside from occasional overacted lines (namely from Mr. Garcia), "Mirrors of Mumbai" tells a story resonant enough within its cultural context to attract an overwhelmingly Indian audience. While all patrons chuckled at the spots of universal humor, Acharya's characters spoke from an Indian perspective, which found distinct appreciation from at least three-quarters of the audience on Saturday. And this show enveloped that audience in radiant pride, glad to have their story told on stage and intrigued to encounter a message that addresses generational boundaries.


Roll your eyes at Stefanie at [email protected]



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