Where: Belfry Theatre
When: March 11 to 24
Tickets: $20. 250-385-6815
When his parents attempted to arrange a bride for him, Ravi Jain was less than overjoyed.
“They tried to trap me and get me married” is how the Toronto playwright, director and actor explains it. Jain, 33, stars in A Brimful of Asha — one of the most anticipated shows at the Belfry Theatre’s Spark Festival.
The comedy, which co-stars Jain’s mother, Asha Jain, examines the real-life situation in which his parents tried to marry him off. It was six years ago, when Jain was preparing to travel to India. His parents, in keeping with that country’s traditions, decided it was a wonderful opportunity for him to meet potential brides.
One was a nice girl living in Mumbai.
“She was great, she was fine,” Jain said. “It just wasn’t going to happen.”
It’s no easy thing to defy one’s Indian parents. The situation caused a “pretty bad rift” between Jain and his folks. Happily, they were able to resolve it.
Later, Jain joked with his mother about the situation, saying he was going to write a one-man show. When his mother insisted audiences would side with her if only she could explain, Jain invited her to join the show.
So 62-year-old Asha Jain did, despite the fact she’d never acted before. A Brimful of Asha became a left-field hit, with two sold-out runs at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre in 2012. The comedy returns to Tarragon in April, with bookings planned for Ottawa, Kamloops, Vancouver, the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Jain says he knew his mother — an outgoing woman who chats with everyone — would perform well. He generously credits her with the show’s popularity.
“She’s my real mom; she’s not a trained actor. It’s just her ability to be so relaxed and charming,” he said.
The Belfry’s artistic director, Michael Shamata, identifies Jain as a rising theatre talent to watch. As well as A Brimful of Asha, shows at the Spark Festival include: Little One by Hannah Moscovitch (one of Canada’s big-buzz playwrights), Oh My Irma, written and performed by Haley McGee, and One by Jason Carnew. The festival also hosts new play readings, mini-plays and workshops.
Co-starring in Little One is Michelle Monteith, a University of Victoria theatre grad who’s now a busy Toronto-based actor. She and Joe Cobden play two adopted siblings whose relationship ranges from loving to self-destructive.
The role of Monteith’s emotionally damaged character, Claire, is complex, she said this week from Toronto.
“[Her brother] calls her a monster. She’s suffered too much trauma in her life,” Monteith said. “Trying to understand the behaviour and psychology of someone like that was definitely challenging.”
A new mother with a 10-month-old baby, Monteith will bring her mother along to babysit in Victoria while she’s working.
Shamata is equally excited about Oh My Irma and One. Oh My Irma is an award-winning show about a young woman who appears, bloodied and wounded, to defend a mysterious crime she’s committed. One is a “beautiful, very visual” piece that retells the Orpheus and Euridyce myth through the eyes of a librarian.
“This is the Belfry bringing in the best, most audacious work that’s happening elsewhere in the country,” Shamata said.
In 2012, attendance at Spark — now in its fifth season — topped 3,500.
“It felt like last year it finally took off,” said Shamata. “Like the seeds had been planted and it just suddenly shot up.”