Playwright Anusree Roy dug deep for this story of a seemingly thriving Canadian family coping with mental illness.
Off the top of Little Pretty and The Exceptional, in its premiere run at Factory Theatre, Toronto theatre audiences could be forgiven for drawing early comparisons to Kim’s Convenience. Both plays feature a larger-than-life (and just this side of racist) first generation immigrant father (Sugith Varughese, who imbues his character Dilpret with charisma, humour, and pathos) with his own shop (in this case, an opening-soon sari store in Little India), with two children who’re Canadians, especially aspiring designer and prom queen Jasmeet (an effervescent Shruti Kothari, in a breakout performance).
But it soon becomes clear the story that playwright Anusree Roy wants to tell is less about showcasing this family as complex model Canadians, and more about the havoc mental illness can wreak on a family—and in this case, Dilpret and his girls could be any Canadian family. (That’s a point that Canadian mental health advocates stress, that mental illness affects all Canadians equally.) Bookish Simran (Farah Merani) is increasingly showing sign of stress and instability that aren’t commensurate with her LSAT prep, and it’s a topic that’s studiously avoided in the family’s frequent meetings about the upcoming shop opening.
There’s layers to the family’s history with mental illness, and we the audience slowly learn these at the same time as Iyar (Shelly Antony), Jasmeet’s charming new boyfriend, who recognizes Simran’s behaviour as a serious illness. But Roy, who recently recounted her own struggles with mental health in an especially candid feature for Intermission Magazine, and clearly did a lot of research besides, isn’t about to make any easy judgement calls for us. Even after medical help, how will the family establish some semblance of normalcy? Trying to move the changing benchmarks for the family’s new normal, and seeing how that stress affects everyone, is what Roy, director Brendan Healy, and the creative team have weaved together. There’s plenty of lighter moments in this tale, but ultimately, it’s the chaos in Simran’s mind that takes centre stage.
To April 30, Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street), Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., $25-$55.
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CORRECTION: APRIL 23 5:57PM: This article originally identified Nina Aquino as the director of the play. Torontoist regrets the error.