The (un)marriage plot: Ravi Jain’s collaborated stage production proves that sometimes, mother doesn’t always know best
By Ava Baccari
Written and performed by Asha and Ravi Jain
Directed by Ravi Jain
Ravi Jain, Asha Jain. Photo by Erin Brubacher.
Canadian actor Ravi Jain has an impressive laundry list of accomplishments in the theatre world, both in Canada and abroad, including a master’s degree from the École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris and founder and artistic director of the Toronto-based theatre company, Why Not Theatre. But he still can’t please his mother. Well, not until that list includes the most important title (in her eyes) of his life: husband. Mothers.
But Asha Jain, self-appointed matchmaker to her happily unmarried son, is not your typical meddling mother. Her dire career of finding a mate for her 32-year old son— already past his matrimonial timeline—has turned into a production, literally. Co-written and performed by the real-life mother and son duo, A Brimful of Asha is now running at the Tarragon Theatre.
Oh what a lovely war ensues. A candid retelling of Ravi’s 2007 trip to India—and his parents’ hidden marriage plot that revealed itself there—by the mother and son who experienced it firsthand is presented as a closing argument submissions scene in court, where the audience assumes the role of jury and the opposing parties state their cases.
With little effort to preserve Canada’s enshrined legal practices of impartial truth-telling and innocent until proven otherwise, Asha warns the audience to “sit alert” because Ravi is a “smart Canadian” who “tends to twist the story and bend the facts.” Ravi, the perennial respectful son, good-heartedly laughs along at her staunch commitment to proving him guilty of breaking his mother’s heart by choosing to remain single.
The ultimate anti-renegade son, Ravi was born to traditional Indian immigrant parents, themselves a product of an arranged marriage. An aspiring actor, he developed the ghastly notion of falling in love and getting married on his own accord. Asha counters his misguided yearning by revealing the cultural pressure his parents face with having an unwed adult son—an actor!—at that. It’s clear that their need to get him hitched trumps his desire for uncontrived, organic love and drawing on her own one-hour meeting with her husband prior to their marriage, love, she persists, is secondary.
The banter is as fluid as most mother-disobedient offspring debates go, with Ravi as the main storyteller and Asha—a non-actor in her stage debut—interjecting with a mother’s endearing, snide criticisms along the way. Julie Fox’s kitchen set musters the communal and truth-bearing sanctity of the kitchen table, as Ravi confronts his mother and their generational disparities while they sip tea. (A plate of samosas, made by Dish Cooking Studio, rests nearby and is offered to patrons streaming in before the show begins.)
It’s easy to automatically sympathize with Ravi’s dilemma; the only thing standing between his humble rejection of parochial cultural traditions, like arranged marriage, and free will is the same force responsible for most of our unfavourable decision-making as humans: a mother’s guilt. (Asha insists her happiness is directly correlated to Ravi settling down with a mate.)
While you may grow frustrated with Asha for imposing her rigid beliefs on her son—and the three-too-many times she’s pulled a fast one on him with strategically planned dates— throughout the 90-minute production, take Ravi’s lead and laugh along. Not that you’ll be able to help doing so already.
A Brimful of Asha runs until February 26 at the Tarragon Theatre. Visit tarragontheatre.com for more information and to buy tickets.