Los Angeles Theater Review: SHIV (The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena)

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by Jason Rohrer on July 13, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


In her play Shiv, the third part of an immigrant-experience trilogy first workshopped in 2013, Aditi Brennan Kapil writes of a character (played by Monika Jolly) named after a Hindu god most widely known as an agent of destruction. The girl’s troubled relationship with her poet father, and her subsequent involvement with a family that contributed to his downfall, are presented as illustrations of the post-colonial Indian diaspora in the West. These themes of invasion and exploitation are lazily tossed, and to an extent conveyed via the protagonist’s self-destructive fantasy life: What is praised as rich imagination in a child is shown inevitably to retard maturation and socialization in an adult. So, we are given to understand, go all destroyers. Or maybe that’s not what the show says. I have no idea. I only watched it, as closely as one can watch an object as full of holes as it is full of itself.

SHIV (The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena -Los Angeles)

There is poetic, clever, and amusing language here of both word and image, and there is one good role: the increasingly inebriate father, beautifully played by Dileep Rao, stands as a melancholy symbol of the immigrant’s inevitable transferring of ambitions to a subsequent generation. Hearing this character, one is willing to forgive the play its presumption that universal can be achieved without consistent detail. If this play consisted exclusively of a series of conversations between parent and child, it would have more to say than it does now as an inchoate yet pompous melange of whiny politics, undeveloped drama, and questionable theatrics.

SHIV (The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena -Los Angeles)

Whiny? Yes: Ostensibly discussing the poet’s work, the play’s secondary antagonist (a professor played by Leonard Kelly-Young) describes a certain bend of post-colonial politics as dated and embittered. While the play does not seem entirely to agree with him, I do; as the grandchild of immigrants, I have never understood the value of a newcomer’s bitching about his poor reception. Those of my ancestors who did that also failed at life; those who didn’t, succeeded. It has always seemed to me that, all things being equal, one makes one’s own way. So I found the constant harping both inescapable and wrongheaded.

SHIV (The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena -Los Angeles)

My disagreement with these philosophies wouldn’t matter if they were just part of a play about people. But undeveloped, did I say? Yes: The immigrants in this story are shown divided by circumstances common to any family, but we are casually informed that an irrevocable estrangement took place at some point. We don’t know enough to care much what happened. The character Shiv flips from girl to young (?) woman as the story flops back and forth chronologically, but in this production Jolly plays adult and child with the same brave, uninteresting stoicism. Shiv is rarely moved to a change of expression even when indulging her favorite (apparently only) pastime of pretending that, like the narrative, her magical mattress can slosh, founder, and sail through space and time.

SHIV (The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena -Los Angeles)

Of course, in one sense it actually can: Any object travels time until it ceases to exist. When I called the theatrics questionable, I meant those in the script and on the boards. A metaphor is only as valuable to an audience as it is to its themes, and in this mess of tackle it’s impossible to tell what’s a sail and what’s a flying fish stuck in the rigging. Or is that a kite? Once her dad has already told stories of allegorical spaceships and fighting toys, watching Shiv play imaginary explorer on a bed-ship is either frustratingly redundant or redundantly frustrating. And when the real-time story (from which the play keeps flashing back) is summarily abandoned so that the backstory can be resolved in an extended display of maudlin obviousness, one happily sees the entire venture sink.

SHIV (The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena -Los Angeles)

Emilie Beck has not made the show any better by making it as gorgeous to look upon as the average too-beautiful-for-a-99-seat-budget Boston Court production. Nobody in the intimate theater world is better than Stephanie Kerley Schwartz at designing a set that can make up for textual deficits, and Tom Ontiveros helps a lot with pretty, evocative lights and projections. This time looks keep the show afloat about twice as long as the writing deserves, and only half as long as it took for me to want to escape the room. Kapil and Beck insist on hanging props and set dressing from ropes, dangling the significant and the frivolous overhead all night until Shiv is ready to make not very thorough use of them. Similarly, James Wagner’s potential love-interest wanders the play like the other actors: Eager to be of service, very appropriate-looking, and lost. This ill-fated vessel takes all hands down with it.

SHIV (The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena -Los Angeles)photos by Ed Krieger

The Theatre @ Boston Court
Boston Court Performing Arts Center
70 North Mentor Ave in Pasadena
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on August 9, 2015
for tickets, call (626) 683-6883
or visit www.BostonCourt.org

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