Sunday, August 02, 2020

Virtual Fringe 2020 Review - My Kahaani - SAATH - Unrequited Love, Uncertain Home - 4 stars

Tweet review: #NightlyFringe outing #3 for viritual #mnfringe 2020: My Kahaani from SAATH; two amusing, heartfelt stories; one friendly, energetic host; a winning combination - 4 stars

(Previous overview) (for the curious)

Branching out from the early days when they were known as Bollywood Dance Scene, the rebranded South Asian Arts and Theater House (SAATH) has started presenting theater that isn't exclusively dance-focused, and these two storytellers chosen from recent years' productions, under the collective show title of My Kahaani, are a good sampler of the kind of new work they have to offer.

Artistic and Executive Director of SAATH, Divya Maiya, did live hosting of the two recorded stories, and her enthusiasm was infectious.  She decided to give an impromptu Bollywood dance lesson right at the top, just to buy a little extra time for the stragglers who might be tuning in a minute or two late.  Those of us watching from the top were encouraged to follow the moves she was demonstrating ("Nobody's watching, and you don't even need to get up from your couch.  It's all hand and head movements.")  Then once we had the moves, she had them play some music so we could put them into practice.  Later she put in pitches for support of both SAATH and the Minnesota Fringe Festival.  She gave an effusive and sincere testimonial to the role the Fringe played in the early life of their company, and what a great resource it is for artists, and new voices.  (They also were part of the FringeMiss fundraiser the night before, you can find more on that here and here.)

"Whenever my father watched TV, he watched news, which is even worse than soap operas."

The first of the two stories was Crushed, written and performed by Darshan Maiya, directed by Erin McGregor.  In addition to Darshan, two other actors brought his teenage romantic travails to life, Gautham Raja (as a younger Darshan), and Sonal Raval (as the various women of his thwarted dreams).  It was a charming tale, made all the more amusing by an infusion of Bollywood dance sequences born of his teenage melodramatic brain.  A stage hand would periodically emerge to shower the two high school non-sweethearts with rose petals.  The only thing that made me curious was the insertion of a rather lengthy prologue talking about the narrator's surreptitious teenage TV viewing habits.  He swore this was a necessary backstory to what we were about to see, but when he got around to the main story it wasn't clear why we needed all that setup.  I didn't really feel I needed to know he watched a lot of MTV, Cartoon Network, and Bollywood films to accept his teenage hopes for romance, or the sudden appearance of dance numbers.  You can just do that and I'll accept it, you don't need to justify it.  Save the time and get on with the main part of your story.  Still, it was a fun piece to watch, even on video shot in the theater from a couple of years ago.  The charm of it still shone through.

"It will all make sense when you have a three year-old."

The other story was Home, written and performed by Bharath Kumar, directed by Madhu Bangalore.  This was from SAATH's most recent Fringe show, a show that unfortunately had to be canceled after the first performance.  Why?  Our host Divya Maiya said it would become clear when we heard what the story was about.  Kumar's story had to do with the differences between the home of his own childhood in India, and the home of his daughter's childhood here in America.  But hanging over their new immigrant life was the necessary short-term thinking caused by living under the deadline of a temporary visa which might or might not be renewed.  And sure enough, right after this performance was filmed, Kumar received word that his visa was not being renewed, and he was being given a week to pack up his life and leave the United States.  (Reviewer's note, not actually a stated part of the production: Just another thing about the current state of the federal government we need to fix.)

"This new country is nothing like the home I left behind."

All in all, a nice double feature of storytelling work from voices we don't ordinarily get to hear.  It's sad that one of these storytellers is no longer here in our country to speak to us more directly.

Though this was part of the live Nightly Fringe roster, now that it has streamed, the video is available for further viewing on SAATH's YouTube channel if you missed it and want to give it a look.

4 stars - Highly Recommended

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