Ravi and Asha Jain

A cozy dining room set with table and chairs takes center stage in Why Not Theatre’s A Brimful of Asha, a current co-presentation of Arts Club Theatre Company and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.

The Jains (Ravi and his mom Asha) are dressed in colourful Indian attire, completely at ease with the audience as Ravi introduces them at the start of their 90-minute autobiographical work.

As Asha explains, “You have come here to help sort out a dispute between me and my son.” She believes that the younger generation lacks common sense and that marriage will make you happy.

The story unfolds to discuss two marriages: that of two different cultures as well as a (hopeful) real marriage between her son and an Indian girl.

Both actors star in and have written this play, a true story that’s told in an informal manner. It’s a classic case of mother knows best meets a clash of the generations, as a loving, well-meaning dedicated housewife (and mother of Ravi!) believe that marriage is something that needs to happen, and time is not a factor in the decision.

Ravi on the other hand isn’t ready to be pushed into a traditional (read: speed marriage) union, and wants to wait until he’s had the chance to know a girl before proposing. This just doesn’t sit well with the parents, who will stop at nothing to marry off their son, even going as far as to intrude on his (and his best friend Andrew’s) big discovery trip through India. What starts out as a dream trip for two guys through India winds up being a matchmaking session from hell.

A Brimful of Asha - opening night
[Ravi and Asha at A Brimful of Asha opening night, Revue Stage Theatre]

The show has many hilarious moments, as the two heave one comic scenario onto the next. While Ravi’s off trying to establish his acting career, there’s potential matchmaking taking place behind his back, with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and just about the entire country involved in the process.

When Asha tells of her own emigration to Canada, we learn how foreign an experience this was to her, arriving in Toronto with very little spoken English skills, taking on a part-time job in a hotel as a desk clerk, trying not to miss her family back home too much. Many others were in the same boat, longing for connection in their newly-adopted land. Soon enough though, her story ends and the main theme returns: marriage, to which Ravi answers, “How is marriage going to make me happy?”. When it comes to cultural traditions, some things never change. Asha’s relentless in the pursuit of her son’s happiness.

We also learn about the marriage proposal process and Bio Data: a detail-rich resume of a potential candidate’s background including date and time of birth, the latter used for astrological compatibility. The Bio Data process goes further in detail, showing all family members’ wealth and occupations, education, marriage/children status, etc. Ravi compares Bio Data to Facebook. Asha just smiles and carries on with smooth, lovable wit.

Ravi mimics his parents with comedic brilliance. Even though his father never appears in the show, Ravi’s portrayal of him is very believable. He gets his nosy aunt’s dialect and mannerisms down pat as well.

Above the dining table, a TV screen helps to illuminate the story through photos and video. Brimful of Asha is an honest, hilarious journey into the ties that bind – and often differentiate – India from the rest of the world (in this case, Toronto). The play is part family argument, part debate, but never without a dull moment.

And yes, you’ll get a chance to sing along to the title’s reference, Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha — it gets a spin before and after the show.

A Brimful of Asha continues at the Revue Stage through February 8.

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