jo ledingham theatre reviews


Posted January 19, 2019

Hands down, Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is the best-smelling show in town. Also the most fun. After a boisterous beginning with colourfully, ethnically costumed James (Justin Rogers) showing us to our seats then pumping up the East Indian music and dancing, little Mrs. Krishnan (Kalyani Nagarajan) arrives and starts cooking. The smell of onions and spices soon fills the Culture Lab followed by the mouth-watering fragrance of stewed tomatoes, red lentils, more spices and basmati rice.

The widowed Mrs. Krishnan lives in the back of her little corner store and James, a university student, is her boarder. He’s a party animal and although not East Indian he’s dressed in brilliant green harem pants, a heavily beaded and jewel-encrusted vest, curly-toed slippers, jewelled armbands, and an outrageous gold headdress. It’s Onam, a Hindu harvest festival and James has, unbeknownst to Mrs. Krishnan, invited us to a party.  Not dressed for a party, we soon find ourselves with colourful silk scarves and flower garlands around our necks. And when Mrs. Krishnan enters the kitchen/dining area, James tells us to shout “Surprise”. Shocked and not at all amused, feisty Mrs. Krishnan invites us to leave but James prevails and she starts cooking.

Forced  gaiety is hard to pull off and James’ over-the-top enthusiasm wears a bit thin with us as well as with Mrs. Krishnan but her story gets more and more interesting as the evening wears on. And just when you begin wondering what all the balloons, little lights and hanging garlands are leading up to, a real story – a sad story – kicks in and holds on before rising to new heights.

Written by Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan and produced by Indian Ink Theatre Company (New Zealand), the show is joyfully interactive: stir the onions, add the spices, blow up the balloons – James and Mrs. Krishnan keep us involved. Even in her mousy little cardigan, granny glasses and sensible shoes, Nagarajan is charismatic as she manoeuvres Mrs. K through a huge range of emotions: she dithers and rails against James; coyly tries match-making in the audience; efficiently manages a rice cooker that will eventually feed all of us; shyly talks on her cellphone; grieves over her absent son; and eventually completely blows us away in a colourful, musical, soul-uplifting finale that you have not imagined Mrs. Krishnan capable of. On top of it all, Nagarajan is a mistress of on-the-spot commentary. On opening night, the ‘volunteer’ actually broke the can opener; Mrs. K immediately chided the fellow’s girlfriend for not teaching him how to use a can opener. There wasn’t a backup device and Nagarajan continued cooking and toying with the us until a Cultch staffer arrived with a second can opener. I don’t know what Nagarajan would have done had a utensil not been made available but chances are she would have chewed the top off the can if she had to!

Directed by Justin Lewis, Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is presented corridor style with a dining table between the two sections. The wallpaper is mismatched and dated; shelves hold various knickknacks including a grad photo of Apu, Mrs. Krishnan’s son. It’s typical curtained-off, back-room, corner store; a little ringing bell reminds us now and again that a customer has arrived and Mrs. Krishnan must attend to it.

But there is nothing typical about Mrs. Krishnan and nothing typical about this production: it’s unique, it’s fun, it’s a party – and you’re invited.

Read original review here