Review: Boys With Cars (Young People’s Theatre)

“Thoughtful and Precise” Boys with Cars arrives at the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto.

Boys With Cars, playing now at Young People’s Theatre, is an adaptation — and that’s only partly a metaphor. Written by and starring Anita Majumdar, the show is adapted from a trilogy of plays called The Fish Eyes Trilogy that focus on the experiences of young Indian women in rural British Columbia (even the play that ostensibly features a young white woman). The girls are navigating the complex, conflicting pressures of their culture and the context in which they’ve found themselves, and though the plays feature teenagers, the work was not originally intended as theatre for young audiences. This may account for why it’s refreshingly free of the didactic heavy-handedness that often lays like a dead fish over plays that treat Serious Issues.

The great talent and charm of Anita Majumdar is the other part. As the writer of this piece, she’s done heroic work as almost an interpreter of teenage experience, much like the interpretive staff at attractions like Colonial Williamsburg. A direct presentation of exactly what something would have been like, in the language and style of the day, would be halfway incomprehensible to the modern audience. Instead, Majumdar’s play feels authentic without being precisely realistic. It’s a great choice, allowing her to communicate tremendous feeling and meaning as the play chews on (among other things) two disparate experiences of the same event and considers questions of consent and agency.

As if that were not enough, Majumdar also performs Boys With Cars, mixing the text with dance as she performs in several classical Indian styles. She’s an excellent dancer, fluid and fluent, which adds a richness to the work — there’s this conflicted and complaining teenager, who seems engaged and then shallow as a puddle by turns, but she can also command an entire vocabulary of dance movements that take thousands of hours to perfect. Which, in many ways, encapsulates the teenage experience — inconsistently inconsistent. Her physicalization and vocalization of the characters nails a range of bodies and accents, so that even when switching between characters is rapid-fire, it’s never confusing.

The dance work is very clearly in conversation with the text, here, and never feels superfluous. I wished I could see this as a double bill with Catherine Hernandez’s beautiful work The Femme Playlist, which is is another very successful (though stylistically different) feminist interrogation performed (in part) through traditional dance styles. But especially in the context of Theatre for Young Audiences, the well-timed dance portions set to pop-music give some of the most difficult material (about sexual assault and the further social repercussions on the victim) room to breathe. When I saw Boys With Cars about half of the audience, by show of hands, was seeing a play for the first time — making the breaks even more valuable.

The technical elements of Boys With Cars are understated and seamless. Sound/projection designer Christopher Stanton and lighting designer Rebecca Picherak do nearly everything that Majumdar can’t with subtle work that adds to the overall piece and never feels clunky or invasive. Also, though uncredited, the ASL interpreter for the day I saw the show did outstanding work in the difficult place between acting and interpreting that solo-show work demands.

A few notes about the content: there are graphic descriptions of a young woman being forced to fondle a man, a liberal sprinkling of salty teenage language including plenty of F-bombs (if this was a movie, it would be rated 14A), and some tough conversation about intimate partner violence. None of it feels gratuitous, I was pleased to note. Like the rest of the performance, even the invective felt thoughtful and precisely deployed. Though I arrived new to Majumdar’s work, I’m a fan now.

Details

  • Boys With Cars is playing until April 1st at Young People’s Theatre, (165 Front Street East)
  • Show times vary, see the performance calendar for details (including Family Day weekend and March Break performances).
  • Ticket prices range from $10 to $41. Youth and Seniors pay $10 – $36.
  • Tickets can be purchased by phone at 416.862.2222 or online

photo of Anita Majumbar by Andrew Alexander