New, written by Pamela Mala Sinha and directed by Alan Dilworth, is a production by Necessary Angel Theatre Company in association with Canadian Stage and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.  It’s currently playing until May 14th at the Berkeley Street Theatre.  Now deals with the lives of Bengali immigrants in Winnipeg in 1970/1.  The lives of three very different couples are turned upside down by the arrival of the young bride arranged for one of the men by his mother in India.

1. The cast of NEW_Necessary Angel Theatre Company 2023_Dahlia Katz

In some ways it’s about both the immigrant experience in general and in others it’s very rooted in aspects of Bengali culture.  I can’t say how much of those two things one needs to have to “get” this play but I can say that my own experiences coloured the way I read it.  At the core is the essential fact that to be an immigrant is to live between two places.  Some people in New, like Ash and the radical feminist  Aisha, are highly assimilated.  Others like Sachin, an academic, and Sita, who refuses to learn or speak English, straddle the divide.  The tragedy is that (apparently) fully assimilated Qasim; a doctor with a long time white girlfriend, feels himself obliged to accept an arranged marriage to a girl half his age from “home”, but is unable to adapt to the situation he has created (or had forced on him).  The consequences for all concerned are profound.

4. Ali Kazmi _ Mirabella Sundar Singh _NEW_Necessary Angel_Photo by Dahlia Katz

It’s a sort of comedy of manners and it’s often very funny but there’s a dark side to it too.  Both the doctor Qasim and his new bride Nuzha are from Muslim families most of whose members were wiped out during Partition.  The other Bengali characters are Hindu by tradition and to varying degrees in practice.  Sachin and Sita, once a successful dancer, have lost a baby; something she is unable to get past.  Qasim’s continuing attachment to his girlfriend Abby makes him unable to attempt any kind of physical contact with Nuzha who is left lonely, frightened and frustrated.  Characters seek comfort where they can find it.

5. Dalal Badr _ Shelly Antony_NEW_Necessary Angel_Photo by Dahlia Katz

It’s brought to life rather brilliantly by director and cast.  They inhabit a set consisting of kitchen, living room and bedroom which serves as the (separate) homes of all three couples.  Transitions of place are signalled both by the lighting and explicitly in projected text.  It’s very smooth.  The acting is uniformly good.  Ali Kazmi plays Qasim and his conflicts in a most convincing manner and Mirabella Sundar Singh gives a reading of Nuzha that’s at once innocent and naive but which also quietly reveals depth and complexity as the story unfolds.  It’s the same sort of clarity that she brought to the role of Hermes in Fifteen Dogs.

6. Fuad Ahmed _ Mirabella Sundar Singh_NEW_Necessary Angel_Photo by Dahlia Katz

The author, Pamela Mala Sinha, is Sita.  She convincingly conveys the sense of being “stuck”; unable to get over her loss and thus unable to come to terms with a future in Winnipeg.  She’s well matched by Fuad Ahmed as her frustrated husband reacting by immersing himself in academia.  Shelly Anthony and Dalai Badr are also very believable as the “modern” pot smoking, free thinkers Ash and Aisha.  Alicia Johnston makes a very good fist of the “outsider” Abby; Qasim’s long tome girlfriend and the only non-Indian.  She also doubles as the rather frantic Emcee of a Miss Canada pageant disrupted by Aisha and her feminist friends.

7. The cast of NEW_Necessary Angel Theatre Company 2023_Dahlia Katz (1)

The chemistry is good.  The cultural nuances feel right.  In short it convinces.  It will make you laugh but it may make you cry too.  It’s that kind of play.

8. Shelly Antony _ Dalal Badr_NEW_Necessary Angel_Photo by Dahlia Katz (1)

Photo credits: Dahlia Katz


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