This family comedy straddles morality and cultures, but gets lost in the journey.
The titular Granny in novelist and playwright Inosh Irani’s My Granny the Goldfish is a wise-cracking, tough-loving, tango-dancing senior from Bombay who is goldfish-like only in the way she drinks. If that sounds like a character from an early ’90s sitcom, that’s not far off the mark—only in this case there’s a lot more Indian spice, and a lot less heart.
My Granny the Goldfish begins with Nico (Kawa Ada), a hypochondriac finance student living in Vancouver, addressing the audience. “It all began with a lump,” he says, even though it definitely didn’t start with a lump—he’s been a neurotic germophobe since early childhood, most likely a side effect of growing up in Bombay’s red-light district with two alcoholic parents. Nevertheless, Nico finds himself in the hospital after getting his lump removed, waiting on test results to tell him whether or not it was malignant. Enter Granny (Yolande Bavan), who makes a surprise visit to offer wisdom and criticism, while Nico’s parents—Farzeen (Veena Sood), a wannabe painter, and Dara (Sanjay Talwar), a bookie—remain oblivious in India. The different generations haven’t seen each other in two years, until a strategic move by Granny reunites them all inside the hospital room. Hijinks and off-colour jokes ensue.
Culturally specific plays like Irani’s Goldfish are welcome additions to the season. Unfortunately, the one-dimensional characters here fail to get laughs, or to tug the heartstrings of the audience. Try as they might, director Rosemary Dunsmore and her cast can’t seem to grab onto a relatable quality or make the gag-heavy script sound natural. The self-deprecating humour is one aspect of the play that helps bridge its Indian and Canadian audiences, but that type of stance only works when there’s a sympathetic character somewhere underneath. Farzeen doesn’t have a comforting bone in her body, Dara is spineless, Nico is whiny, and their moments of redemption—if they get them—come off as forced thematic devices.
Then there’s the production’s driving force, Granny. Understandably, as the title character, she is a bit more developed than the rest of her bitter brood. Some of the most touching moments happen between her and Nico in the hospital room (a dynamic set, by designer John Thompson). But Bavan’s timid frame and slowed speech don’t do the character—supposedly a larger-than-life dynamo—justice. Her endless spout of slurs and mantras should hit the audience like a Mack truck. Instead, the lines lose their sting, and there’s no buildup to a frustrated outburst from Nico.
The script could use some tweaks to timing, pace, and unneeded exits and entrances, as well as other logical inconsistencies surrounding Nico’s love life, hospital regulations, international travel, and the physical condition of someone two weeks away from death. With all that done, we could be left with a touching tale of a family breaking old habits and starting anew—one that wouldn’t have us yearning for the Tanners, the Winslows, or the Bankses.