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Review: DHABA ON DEVON AVENUE at TAPAC

The world premiere plays now through June 5th.

Review: DHABA ON DEVON AVENUE at TAPAC

Dhaba on Devon Avenue" by Madhuri Shekar

Reviewed by Glenda Pearce

"Family is business and business is family"

It's opening night of a world premiere - and it's a passionate and eloquent drama of a family polarised by a gamut of emotions: pride, determination, challenge, and heritage.

The play is written by American Madhuri Shekar, who is on the scriptwriting team for Whoopi Goldberg's Sister Act 3. Capably directed by Sananda Chatterjee, it's the story of a family in crisis when their Sindhi restaurant is in danger of foreclosure. But it's so much more than that. It's the story of a family experiencing generational change and cultural relocation.

Set in Dhaba's Canteen, the audience is treated to authentic wafting aromas of the dishes being created and convincing sound effects. Stubborn, hardworking and defiant matriarch, Pooja Madhwani (Ayesha Heble) has run this business for thirty years. She believes she knows everything there is to know about running a restaurant, and despite the diminishing patronage, does not want to change a single thing on her authentic menu, "I don't taste our mothers in this". Although originally set in Chicago, PRAYAS obtained permission from Shekar to edit and change some 'localising' details, as well as to exchange Pooja's character from patriarch to matriarch. This was an inspired decision. Pooja's emotional vulnerability and pride is artistically conveyed.

Ayesha Heble brings a Lear-like quality to this tragic role. Her rich resonant tones capture Pooja's authority and determination and her physical decline is skilfully handled. Her portrayal of a 'powerhouse' woman now struggling with Parkinson's Disease is convincing and moving. Initially, Pooja thinks only her motor skills have been affected, but it soon becomes apparent, she has lost her sense of taste and smell - disaster for any chef. Particularly heartfelt and passionately delivered is her eventual outburst about the importance of respect, family and tradition. We are "the custodians of our heritage." Moments of pathos, when sustained, are powerful.

Pooja's two daughters, Rita Madhwani (Narme Deva) and Sindhu Madhwani (Namrata Mankame Shanbhag) are divided on what should be done. The sisters effectively present contrasting attitudes and cultural expectations. Success looks different to different generations - and sisters! When played out to the audience, facial expression and body physicality are particularly successful and engaging.

Narme Deva pulls at our heart strings as Rita patiently attempts to respect her mother's wishes despite constant criticism. Rita's a modern girl, but both her work and personal world is small. She feels trapped. Sindhu is more modern and pragmatic, and Namrata's well-articulated and emotive delivery of Sindhu's lines capture her hard-hitting approach. Delightful touches of humour here - pregnant Sindhu can't stand the smell of Indian food!

Animated Amit Ohdedar, as brother-in-law and uncle Adil Jaisinghani , is a valuable addition to the tension of the action. His colour, energy and vivacity effectively create new pace and we see the family business in a new light. He's supportive and prepared to invest. Worker Li Ming (Samantha Cheong) has our sympathies. She is waiting for a work visa, and is ambitious. Talented character portrayal saw us firmly engaging with Li Ming's realism and clash of loyalties.

The play definitely connected with many in the audience. "It's this typical conversation that you have with your parents about 'you just need to let me do my thing. You brought me to a new country to have a better life, so don't restrict the rules of the better life to back home'," the director says. It's a true picture of many cultural conversations and well worth seeing.

The show plays until 5 June at TAPAC. Book tickets from tapac.org.nz or call 09 845 0295.




From This Author - Glenda Pearce

Glenda Pearce is a  specialist professional effective speaking coach and workshop facilitator in all aspects of theatre, public speaking, poetry and  writing.  She  facilitates... (read more about this author)


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