You cannot imagine what a relief it was to me to discover that My Granny the Goldfish was a title less about magical realism and more about a alcoholic grandmother. While that may seem a bit strange, the truth is that I am generally fairly averse to magical realism, while playwright Anosh Irani has written one of the funniest drunken elderly ladies since Lady Bracknell. And he could not possibly be any luckier than to have Yolande Bavan to play Granny, lending every bit of her considerable expertise to the role.
The play gives us three generations of a family that easily meets the modern standard of “dysfunctional”, with drinking, OCD, extra-legal occupations, drinking, sex work, circuses and drinking all getting their time in the mix. Nico, the son of an alcoholic mother and a bookie father from Mumbai, has emigrated to Vancouver. To study finance. Much to the distress of his relatives at home. To make things worse, he discovers a lump, and that’s where our story begins.
Nico’s father is played by Sanjay Talwar, whom I’ve seen in several other things this year (including Brothel #9 and The Story). This is not, regrettably, his best role – Talwar’s got great range, and does well in parts where he can express a lot of emotion. As the almost-pathologically placating husband of Farzeen, he’s solid but not really used to his best advantage. Veena Sood’s performance as Farzeen can be similarly described – well-enough acted (she’s abrasive, braying, and cheerfully racist) in a somewhat one-dimensional role. It’s as though playwright Irani saves all the good stuff for Nico and Granny, using the intermediate generation as a kind of combination placeholder/kinetic scenery/backstory engine. I’ll admit that it rankled a little – mostly because I have seen what those actors are capable of, and it’s a lot more than they get to do here.
However. The snap and chemistry between Kawa Ada as Nico and Bavande’s Granny was worth the price of admission, for sure. This is the second piece I have seen in the last few months that relied on an actor well into “retirement age”, and there is simply no way to overstate how glad I am that Toronto theatres continue to choose these immensely talented elders to play elder characters, rather than powdering a forty-year-old and calling it a day. Bavande, lively and lilting, literally dances across the stage – providing a nice counterpoint to Ada, confined to his bed by an IV pole and his fears.
It’s worth noting that things get a little weird in the second act, and Nico has a dramatic epiphany about his path in life that appears to be produced out of basically nothing. Not my favorite flavour, honestly – I’d have rather Irani gave us something a little more believable, especially in the wake of such family drama. And Farzeen’s behavior goes from objectionable to legally actionable, or nearly, but none of the other characters seem to take notice of this. Still, it’s an interesting piece, and Bavande live onstage alone (or singing in the interstitials, a sound design choice that should earn Reza Jacobs at least a plastic rocket and a pony) brings enough to make it worth seeing.
– My Granny The Goldfish plays until April 15, 2012 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St)
– Shows run Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm
– Ticket prices range from $30 to $40, with PWYC performances on Sunday
– Tickets are available online or through the box office at 416-504-9971