Family, transition & mental illness in the honest, engaging, moving Little Pretty and The Exceptional

Sugith Varughese & Farah Merani in Little Pretty and The Exceptional—photo by Joseph Michael

 

A South Asian Canadian family navigates a career transition, personal milestones and mental illness in Anusree Roy’s Little Pretty and The Exceptional, directed by Brendan Healy, assisted by Ryan G. Hinds—running in the Factory Theatre Mainspace.

Little Pretty and The Exceptional takes us to Toronto’s Little India, to a store on Gerrard St. East where Singh family patriarch Dilpreet (Sugith Varughese) is preparing for the Canada Day grand opening of his family-run sari shop with the help of his daughters Simran (Farah Merani) and Jasmeet (Shruti Kothari). To his chagrin, Jasmeet has also enlisted the help of her boyfriend Iyar (Shelly Antony).

The entire Singh household is running on the stress and excitement of major life events: Dilpreet is navigating a career transition, going from shop employee to shop owner; Simran, who wants to be a human rights lawyer, also works at the library and is awaiting her LSAT results; and Jasmeet is preparing for prom and gunning for the coveted Prom Queen crown.

When Simran’s LSAT score is lower than she needs to get into Osgoode, she begins a downward spiral into extreme tension and anxiety. As she struggles to sign up for LSAT prep classes and reschedule the test, her ongoing nightmares and headaches are getting worse, and she’s beginning to hallucinate. And when she goes missing one night, returning with a story of seeing her dead mother, her father wants to take her to the doctor, but her sister thinks she just needs time and space to relax.

Haunted by their shared history of a wife and mother who struggled with mental illness, and with the grand opening just days away, the Singhs are torn about what to do for Simran—but as her visual and auditory hallucinations worsen, even Jasmeet realizes they must seek medical intervention. In the end, as much as the Singhs strive for normalcy as they open the shop, things will never be the same again.

Lovely work from the cast in this poignant, sometimes funny, family story. Varughese gives a moving and powerful performance as Dilpreet; a loveable, outspoken and somewhat stubborn man with a wry wit, Dilpreet is a middle-aged father bravely shifting from employee to entrepreneur. An immigrant who came to Canada to make a better life for his family, the cultural and generational divides with his daughters make for some fun comedic moments of communication and butting heads. Merani is heartbreaking as Simran; the ‘smart one’ of the Singh sisters, Simran’s decent into Schizophrenia is devastating to watch—from her perspective as a strong academic student aiming for law school, and the varied responses from her family.

Shruti Kothari and Shelly Antony in Little Pretty and The Exceptional - Joseph Michael Photography (1)
Shruti Kothari & Shelly Antony in Little Pretty and The Exceptional—photo by Joseph Michael

Kothari is a firework as Jasmeet, the ‘pretty one;’ a young woman of boundless energy and a touch of vanity, Jasmeet’s a high school senior who wants to be a fashion designer. Outspoken like her father, she’s a take-charge gal—but when it comes to her big sis, she goes into denial over the increasingly erratic behaviour. Haunted by vague memories of their “crazy” mother, Jasmeet doesn’t want to consider that Simran may need psychiatric help. Antony is a delight as Iyar; high-energy, laid back and supportive, Iyar has no trouble gently calling Jasmeet on her attitude towards Simran’s situation. And though he’s not technically a member of the Singh family, he does great service assisting with the store opening and overall emotional support.

With shouts to the design team for their work in creating the lush, evocative space—filled with rich, gorgeous fabrics, and music and lighting that goes from bright and lively to malevolent: Samantha Brown (set, props), Chantelle Laliberte (costumes), André du Toit (lighting) and Richard Feren (composer and sound).

Family, transition and mental illness in the honest, engaging, moving Little Pretty and The Exceptional.

Little Pretty and The Exceptional continues in the Factory Theatre Mainspace till April 30. Advance tix available online or by calling 416-504-9971.

Check out Anusree Roy’s beautiful, honest and personal piece on mental health in Intermission Magazine.

Toronto Fringe: A lovely, complex, layered exploration of relationships in Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness

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Tim Cadeny, Andrea Brown, Joel Fishbane, Geneviève DeGraves, Shelly Antony & Katherine Fogler – photo by Tim Cadeny

A baby on the way. A marital infidelity. Marriage counsellor, heal thyself.

Three Five Productions’ Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness, written and directed by Chantal Forde, examines three couples facing huge relationship challenges as they strive for life, love and happiness – running in the Factory Theatre mainspace for Toronto Fringe.

Jessica (Katherine Fogler) and Damon (Shelly Antony) are married high school sweethearts. He’s just been promoted at work, which comes as a great relief as they’re expecting their first baby. It’s a big change coming to their lives – and relationship – one that forces them to consider what they really want. Do they both want the same things?

Nika (Andrea Brown) and Marcus (Tim Cadeny) have been forced apart by an affair, and are trying to put the pieces of their marriage back together. Forgetting is impossible, but what about forgiveness – and, even more importantly, trust?

Marriage counsellor Stephen (Joel Fishbane) finds himself working on his own relationship issues with his younger girlfriend Lise (Genviève DeGraves). Is there more to this May/December relationship than good times and great sex? And can he bring himself to walk the talk?

Really nice work from this cast, who collectively brave the deep emotional places of these characters with respect and honesty; and bring a quiet, natural dynamic to these relationships – the ease and difficulty of couples who know each other well. Antony’s Damon is sweet, boyish and optimistic; excited and scared at the prospect of becoming a father. Fogler is edgy and smart-ass as Jessica, whose attitude goes into overdrive as she deals with her own terror and uncertainty at this huge life change. Brown gives Nika multiple layers of inner conflict as she push-pulls to and from Marcus with a combination of determination and fragility; longing to make it work, but struggling with her own trust issues. And Cadeny’s Marcus is irreverently funny, contrite and hopeful, but wary himself; finding forgiveness isn’t easy and he can’t make Nika trust him. Fishbane is good-natured and professional as Stephen, a middle-aged dude who’s good at what he does, but torn between the optics and what his heart is telling him when it comes to his feelings for his much younger girlfriend. As Lise, DeGraves is bubbly and vivacious, a fresh university grad who’s excited to take on the world and not afraid to work for it, and wise beyond her years.

You can’t help but place yourself in these couples’ situations – or at least form an opinion about them. The play also highlights the question: How much of our own ‘happy’ can we – or should we – come to expect from the one we love and how we feel when we’re with them?

Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness is a lovely, complex, layered exploration of modern-day romantic relationships – gradually and organically unfolding, and performed with truth and heart by an excellent cast.

Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness continues at the Factory Theatre mainspace until July 11 – check their Fringe show page for exact dates/times.