Review: Same Same But Different (Theatre Passe Muraille and ATP in assoc. with Nightswimming)

The music and theatrics of Bollywood enlivens Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille in Same Same But Different

Same Same But Different, now onstage at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, is two plays in one. Both acts are capable of standing alone as completed works, and have done so to acclaim in the past. With timeless themes forming a shared backbone, this fine night of theatre shows us both sides of the same rupee.

Same Same But Different is the brainchild of uber-talented Anita Majumdar. Majumdar wrote, choreographed and stars in the play. She’s onstage for the vast majority of the two acts, and the total running time is about 2 hours and 40 minutes. That might sound like a recipe for “we’re going to grow tired of this woman”, but trust me, you won’t.

In the first act Majumdar plays a Canadian-born Bollywood diva. She’s a tremendous dancer and singer. And oh yeah, her costumes are gorgeous.

With a simple set, the only actors we see onstage throughout Same Same But Different are Majumdar and the incredibly charismatic Nicco Lorenzo Garcia. Complementing the two is a deceivingly simple stage. Lighting is used to great effect, almost becoming a third actor on stage at times. I’d elaborate further, but that might spoil it for you.

The large stage is mostly empty during the first act, which allows for Garcia and Majumdar to strut their dance steps. I’m not a huge fan of dance, but these two were able to convey a range of emotion that drew me in slowly and steadily.

In Act One, Majumdar and Garcia are rehearsing for a Bollywood movie shoot. Certain scenes are repeated at the insistence of an unseen director (Reza Jacobs). Jacobs is hilarious, playing a director who is a scoundrel. He is a much needed counterbalance to Majumdar’s overly dramatic Aisha.

There’s also a tonne of great, upbeat music in Act One, which I loved. I was taken aback a bit when Stan, my partner for the evening, said “I could have used more dialogue” during intermission. Stan goes out of his way to find music and loves nearly every note he hears.

There were parts of nine songs used in the first half of Same Same But Different, and I enjoyed them all. The choreography and dancing of Majumdar and Garcia are most likely to take the credit for that. I just loved being “backstage” with the two while they “rehearsed”.

I said earlier that you won’t grow tired of Majumdar, and I am certain you won’t. However, I didn’t find her as riveting in Act Two. She doesn’t dance, and that’s the crux of the matter for me. I kept waiting for her to display acting chops equal to her brilliant dancing.

I sensed she was on the verge of transcending the stage as an actor, but it didn’t happen. At least it didn’t during the night that I saw Same Same But Different. It could happen during another performance of this play, or another play Majumdar is part of in the future. I’m almost certain that it will. And I’d absolutely love to see it.

That being said, Stan enjoyed Act Two much more than he did Act One. Act Two is a throwback to the 80’s, with Majumdar playing her mother, Kabira. Garcia plays an experienced Bollywood actor who has seen a lot of the world and developed a taste for revolution and cocaine.

We’re backstage with the two singer/actor/dancers again as they record songs for a Bollywood movie. Dancing in Act Two is much more reserved, with the overall tone being thoughtful and comforting. I didn’t really pick up the implied nuances of discrimination based on skin tone until after the play was finished. Maybe that’s because I’m a big old white guy from Canada.

I enjoyed Same Same But Different. It’s a fun, eye-opening evening and I recommend checking it out.

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Photo of Anita Majumdar and Nicco Lorenzo Garcia by Michael Cooper.