Why Not Theater & Nautanki Bazaar / Riser Toronto: An IMM-Permanent Resident, written and performed by Neha Poduval and Himanshu Sitlani, directed by Miquelon Rodriguez, The Theater Center Incubator, Apr. 1 to 10. Tickets available here.
I love the Riser project!
Riser Toronto, otherwise known by the mouthful “a collaborative producing model”, was launched in 2014 by Why Not Theater as a way of presenting new work from promising independent artists. The main idea is to help them with the challenges of producing theater, and all that entails. This year, Riser is adding in Edmonton, with more cities to follow, making the project a pan-Canadian initiative.
The reason I love Riser is that the work, which has been carefully curated, is always interesting, even when flawed, and many of the over 40+ new productions have gone on to be presented at the main stages across the country. The first of the five Riser Toronto 2022 plays – An IMM-Permanent Resident – is a perfect example of what makes the project great. The play is an absolute charmer.
The writers / performers, Neha Poduval and Himanshu Sitlani, are a real-life couple, and apparently, much of An IMM-Permanent Resident is autobiographical. The play presents the absurdities and vicissitudes of the Canadian immigration system, and while we in the audience are laughing out loud at the roller coaster ride that Poduval and Sitlani have to endure, we are also winning at what our country makes immigrant wannabes go through. The ironic title is absolutely perfect.
Sitlani, it seems, had immigrated with his family to Toronto several years before, and was a Canadian citizen, but the two met in India, so it was a long-distance romance. When they married, the couple began the paperwork to bring Poduval to Canada as a sponsored spouse. The “IMM” in the title is the way all immigrant request forms begin, such as IMM-123456. Their goal is to have Poduval classified as a much-desired permanent resident.
Unfortunately, Poduval has refused PR status several times for a variety of unbelievable, even stupid reasons, which means having to start the paperwork from scratch again. My biggest laugh came when they got a letter saying that the Canadian government is making the immigration process easier, but, they have to use the new forms, which negates all the work they’ve done with the old forms.
As well as depicting how the couple copes with the endless filling out of the IMM forms, the play also features moving scenes showing the strains on their marriage, as Poduval has to keep on extending her visitor’s visa, which prevents her from working, and her genuine homesickness for her beloved Mumbai. We also see delightful vignettes from their pre-marriage romance, including very funny portrayals of various parents and a shady immigration lawyer. In fact, An IMM-Permanent Resident is a journey of genuine chuckles.
Miquelon Rodriguez is a sound designer, among other things, who is embarking on his first directorial journey with An IMM-Permanent Resident, and he certainly shows promise. The tiny Incubator performing space at the Theater Center is basically an open pit, and Rodriguez moves his actors around the various clumps of boxes, suitcases, and file folders with assured finesse. When Poduval and Sitlani need props or bits of costumes, they reach into one of the suitcases. It is, in fact, a clever direction.
Because this is a Riser project, Poduval, Sitlani and Rodriquez got to work with seasoned lighting designer André du Toit, and set and costume designer Jung-Hye Kim, and their contributions certainly elevate the production, as does Rodriguez ‘busy sound design that is a mix of Bollywood music, other pop tunes, and ambient noises.
As for the performers, Poduval is absolutely sparkling, while Sitlani is more restrained, but they do complement each other. Sadly, there were times that I missed what they were saying when they spoke quickly, and their Indian accents obscured speech. I really, really wanted to catch every word.
The couple started their own theater company, Nautanki Bazaar, in 2019, with the stated purpose to present South Asian stories and artists, and I look forward to their future productions. Poduval and Sitlani clearly have talent, and are enriching the multicultural mosaic that is the Toronto theater scene. I wish them well.
Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.