Shakespeare's classic comedy gets reimagined in the context of Brampton's South Asian diaspora, to hilarious results.
Much Ado About Nothing
Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave)
Runs to May 31
What’s common between Shakespearean comedies and Bollywood movies? Both, more often than not, are about people suffering love. Or, so says veteran director Richard Rose.
His newest adaptation of the bard’s rom-com Much Ado About Nothing takes place in Brampton’s South Asian community, and delves into the old-versus-new value struggles of Canada’s immigrant families in a Bollywood-style song-and-dance-filled drama. The resulting war of sexes amidst a clash of cultures makes for light, mirthful entertainment teeming with powerhouse performances.
In the play, Brampton’s Mayor Ranjit (David Adams) welcomes business-mogul Lord Tata (Kawa Ada) along with his CFO Benedict (Alon Nashman) and his protege Darius (Ali Momen) to his home. Darius falls for Ranjit’s daughter Sita (Sarena Parmar) after seeing her just once. He confides in Lord Tata who agrees to help him win Sita by seeking Ranjit’s approval. Meanwhile, Sita’s cousin Thara (Anusree Roy) spars with Benedict, but Lord Tata persuades Darius and Sita to help him bring the two together. All is set to end well, when Lord Tata’s vengeful brother, Jovani Tata (Salvatore Antonio), throws a wrench in the celebrations by plotting against Darius and Sita.
In a phone interview following the play’s inaugural preview, Rose spoke about how the script’s Bollywood take allowed for overall gaiety, while setting the play in Brampton gave him the perfect backdrop to dig deeper into cultural identity conflicts and intergenerational squabbles—themes that the majority of Canadians experience directly or indirectly in our immigrant-heavy, multicultural society.
Drawing from his own experience of growing up with his traditional Venezuelan mother and Canadian father, Rose says, “My mother had one big foot in the old world while I was growing up Canadian. I’ve known the power that conventional culture had on her.”
Much Ado centres on Mayor Ranjit’s traditional family values of loyalty and honour—values that are further highlighted when Sita obeys her father and takes a leap of faith to enter into an arranged marriage with Darius.
Concurrently, and in line with Bollywood-style idiosyncrasies, Darius finds himself lost in his absolute love for Sita. Later in the play, when dealing with a tragedy and terrified of the new life before him, he learns to take his own leap of faith into the unknown.
In an ode to traditional family matriarchs, Rose swaps the male friar from the original text with Mayor Ranjit’s sister—the auntie (Ellora Patnaik)—as the family matriarch who exudes the voice of reason when Darius and Sita’s relationship unravels. As is often seen in many immigrant families, this powerful matriarchal figure is entrenched in old-country traditionalism, and still converses in her native Hindi.
Rose worked with consulting director Ravi Jain to edit and update the original Shakespearean script and peppered it with Hindi swears and “oh my God”–style expressions. Next, he went on to punctuate the text with Dora-nominated Nova Bhattacharya’s sensual dance routines played to Suba Sankaran and Ed Hanley’s classical temple rhythms and energetic bhangra beats.
“The original text for this play is in prose for the most part, which allows greater flexibility in terms of language,” Rose tells us.
Throughout the play, Hindi and English surtitles—not word-for-word translation, but an opera-style gist—explain the goings-on.
While researching for the script, Rose spent time in and around Brampton and visited gurudwaras (Sikh places of worship) in an effort to study the South Asian community and its mannerisms. Further on, Bhattacharya and Patnaik became the team’s unofficial cultural gurus, in addition to choreographing and acting in the play.
Kawa Ada, who plays Lord Tata, spoke to us about the play’s language and its Bollywood backdrop. Having lived briefly in India, he’s deeply influenced by the region’s cultures. “As I prepared for my part, I was able to reconnect with my roots that I already have an affinity for,” he says, speaking of his excitement around being involved in a Shakespeare play that has a strong South Asian context.
“Ultimately,” he says, “Much Ado is not about any one culture or ethnic background. It’s not only about Canadians who consider themselves as part of the South Asian community. Instead, it’s a reflection of the various diaspora groups living in Canada.”