Pat Donnelly from the Montreal Gazette reviews Beneath the Banyan Tree: “…sure to strike a chord with anyone who has ever been the new kid at school.”
Read on Montreal Gazette’s website: Beneath the Banyan Tree – A beautiful play for the whole family
Pat Donnelly – February 23, 2015
Beneath the Banyan Tree, presented by Geordie Productions at Centaur Theatre, is a beautifully staged production of inclusive theme sure to strike a chord with anyone who has ever been the new kid at school.
Playwright Emil Sher has woven a compelling tale of a young South Asian girl adjusting to her new life in Canada.
At first we meet Anjali (Natalia Gracious) hanging out under her friendly local talking tree (played by Qasim Khan) in India, surrounded by her toys, fearfully awaiting her departure for Canada. She knows Canada is cold and she has heard that “everyone wears skates, even to bed.”
The tree assures her that her favourite stories and characters will follow her wherever she goes, and thus begins a silken blend of Panchatantra storytelling (including a fable of an elephant and a grateful group of mice), dance (both traditional and modern) and puppetry.
Shortly after arriving in Canada, Anjali is given a lovely outfit by her grandmother, Ajji (Rachelle Ganesh), but refuses to wear it to school because she simply wants to “fit in.” She also rejects her lunch, carefully packed in stacked “tiffin” tins by her grandmother, because it’s “too Indian.”
At school she is befriended by a boy named Mason (Kyle Orzech) who is fascinated by the red dot, or bindi, she wears on her forehead. But there’s a smartass girl named Skylar (also played by Ganesh) determined to give Anjali a hard time.
It’s only when Anjali finds the courage to be herself and tell her own story to the class, using South Asian dance as her main means of communication, that she’s finally acknowledged as potentially cool.
Beneath the Banyan Tree, directed by Lynda Hill and choreographed by Lata Pada, has been around for a while. It premiered with Theatre Direct in Toronto 10 years ago. Since then it has toured to the U.K., as well as across Canada. The current production is a 10th anniversary Theatre Direct revival, booked into Montreal by Geordie Productions. After testing its wings here, it will return to Toronto for a three-week run.
Hill, who is artistic director of Theatre Direct, said the actors in this production are new, but the creative team has remained the same. The company will be celebrating its 40th anniversary next season.
When it comes to embracing diversity, Hill said, “Theatres that serve young audiences tend to have a way better track record, both in their casting and in the themes they explore.”
And there’s a solid reason for that.
“We serve the most diverse audiences every day,” she said. “We stand in front of the world. We look at faces that come from everywhere in the world.”
Meanwhile, mainstream adult theatre companies often struggle to bring in culturally diverse audiences, she added.
Beneath the Banyan Tree is an ideal outing for the whole family, from age 4 to 104.
Beneath the Banyan Tree, by Emil Sher, continues at Centaur Theatre, Saturday at 4 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets, children $16.28, students/seniors $18.98, adults $21.28. Call 524-845-9810 or visit www.geordie.ca