In the beginning there was “Krishnan’s Dairy,” a one-man show interweaving the story of an Indian immigrant shopkeeper and his homesick wife with the romance of Shah Jahan and the beloved consort in whose memory he built the Taj Mahal.
Over two decades later, for the Hindu harvest festival of Onam, that man’s widow of 23 years finds herself rustling up dhal (which starts with rice and lentils) for 100 or so unexpected visitors in the storage room of the convenience store (that would be the “dairy”) she took over when her husband was killed by an intruder.
Welcome to “Mrs. Krishnan’s Party,” the latest production of the Indian Ink Theatre Company of Auckland, New Zealand, coming Sunday to the stage of Leeward Theatre at Leeward Community College.
Mrs. Krishnan’s guests, which is to say the public, will be right on stage with her, and not just to watch.
“Tonight we are all one people — Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, capitalist, communist — all one tribe, united in this time and space, which, in Eastern philosophy, is possibly an illusion,” announces the 20-something emcee James, who is also Mrs. K’s lodger.
“What is real is what we feel. Who’s been to Onam before? Not many of you, eh? Sweet. Well, it’s like Christmas and Easter and Diwali all rolled into one.”
Be advised: There will be dancing.
In short, this is immersive theater, and those up front may be invited to participate — but there is also a seat for introverts at this production. Whether guests choose places of honor at the top table, seats in the bleachers with the self-selected wallflowers, or no chairs at all as free-ranging “party animals,” we’re part of the show.
Choose locations advisedly. In the center of things you might be asked your name or get handed a can opener. Prepare to shed a tear or two when Mrs. K starts slicing onions.
“Dhoti kurta” or sari are optional but definitely a plus.
OVER THE past two decades and counting, Indian Ink co-founders Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis have created a repertory of nine hit plays (sample titles: “The Dentist’s Chair,” “Guru of Chai” and “Kiss the Fish”). What drives their work is the philosophy of the “serious laugh” — “opening mouths with laughter,” as they have put it, “in order to slip something serious in along with a love of mask and story.”
There seem to have been lots of masks in “Krishnan’s Dairy,” though there are none in the current sequel. Still, the laughter and the seriousness are here, in the personal histories of lead characters who misjudge what they mean to each other, what they mean to other people, where they belong and what’s in it for them if they bury illusions that have been turning to ashes in their mouths.
On the evidence of the script and video clips, Rajan and Lewis deliver wisdom of the ages (or common sense?) with a zany touch that is both fresh and graceful. So do the stars of “Mrs. Krishnan’s Party,” both in the springtime of their careers.
Kalyani Nagarajan (cross yet giving as Mrs. K) and Justin Rogers (keyed up as James) were classmates in drama school and have the chemistry to show for it. That Nagarajan is way underage for her part seems hardly to matter.
As in “Krishnan’s Dairy,” the here and now of the action mirrors the long ago and faraway. In the earlier case the point of reference was historical; in this case it’s myth.
James, floundering in college but going places as “DJ Jimmy J,” welcomes the crowd in a budget-busting saffron vest, emerald Aladdin pants and the gilt-flowered crown of King Maveli, an upstart demon who challenged the almighty Vishnu and lost, yet paradoxically won a kind of victory for humankind.
Never got the memo? Never fear. In good time, Mrs. Krishnan explains everything.
Mind you, she has her reservations about James as a Malveli in sunglasses. That’s a detail James has copied from the Maveli he locked eyes with while celebrating Onam on a visit to Kerala — the faraway homeland Mrs. K still dreams of going back to.
“He was like the King of Love,” James explains, jazzed by the memory of that Flower Power moment.
“He’s supposed to be returning from the underworld,” scoffs Mrs. K. “Not Hawaii.”
In the islands, that’s a zinger that lands.
“MRS. KRISHNAN’S PARTY”
>> Where: Leeward Theatre, Leeward Community College
>> When: 2 p.m. Sunday
>> Cost: $20-$40
>> Info: 956-8246 or outreach.hawaii.edu/community
>> Also: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Maui Arts & Cultural Center; $45-$65, 808-242-7469 or mauiarts.com
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