Looking for Mr. Right Now!
Packing thought-provoking theatre into small packages, The Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood serves up astute hors d'oeuvre -sized slices of the arts. Cradled between office blocks and an array of other theatres snuggled together, and chocked full of locals and tourists from around the world in the audience, it’s brimming with diversity. Not a bad venue, then, for a show about the sometimes painful incompatibility between collective identities in a multicultural world.
I’m talking of “Treya’s Last Dance,” a hilarious but awkward, heart-wrenching tale of love and loss in London, now playing at the Hudson through October 23rd. It’s a delicious morsel for the dinner hour: a funny, provoking and sometimes riding crop sharp one-woman show that, at times, feels more like a stage full of characters from a Charles Dickens novel.
It was shortly after the British Raj released its grip on the people of India in 1947, after nearly 100 years of rule, that working-class Indian families began emigrating to London. The subsequent blending of the two radically different cultures – the Brits, and those fleeing the weak economy in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – is still to this day a thorny relationship, despite the growing diversity of a country stretched to its limits. A bi-product of that culture, Shyam Bhatt gives us a small taste of her life, along with all the challenges faced daily.
Ms. Bhatt, who also wrote the play and portrays the hapless Treya, is a bundle of nerves, tics and tumbling words. Her energy carries the audience with her on an emotional journey from confusion to grief to a hopeful happy ending, thanks in part to the sensitive direction of Poonam Basu – herself an actor and writer who has appeared on stages in LA, Boston, Phoenix, and Madrid. Ms. Basu has appeared on “Parks and Recreation,” “Baskets,” “Bad Judge,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Splitting Up Together,” and “The Uglydolls Movie,” and has also produced six short films, two of which she wrote, and one which won Best Experimental Film at the Vegas Movie Awards.
In an incredible one-hour performance, Shyam Bhatt gives voice to rasping old ladies, middle-aged Indian men, Afro-Caribbean preachers, bitchy cousins and howling seven-year-olds with breathless ease. Each of them is convincing and deeply charming. Ms. Bhatt is not only bang-on accurate but delivers her impressions with a kind of tender affection. Without both, her ethnicity-spanning impressions – okay, maybe just that homophobic black preacher – might play uncomfortably. (Side Note: Ms. Bhatt uses the unique and sometimes unintelligible argot of East Indian working-class youth, so some of the jokes and her comments might sail over the heads of less au fait audience members.)
Her comments fall somewhere between aggressively awkward and off-puttingly self-indulgent, but her authentic delivery makes her great company. The structure allows her to work in self-deprecating, wry, and moving anecdotes about ill-advised romantic encounters, kaleidoscopes, and her brother “T.” One of the best recounts is from a “disturbed romance” costume party, for which Treya suggests dressing up with her sibling as an Indian farmer and his child bride.
We learn about her family, particularly her demanding mother, her dead-end job, and her lonely social life that finally pushes her to attend an excruciating speed dating event at a local dive bar – her one simple conceit, using it to shine a light on her protagonist’s past and present. Drawing comparisons, excoriating tones and portraits of several of her dates, she reveals one who learned all his charm “from Bollywood and porn,” one who loves the kind of bar that serves “red or white,” and a cousin with a “maximum of three brain cells.”
Treya’s answers to her prospective dates’ questions are directed straight towards us, as though WE are her speed-dating companions. They are weird, frank, utterly unguarded vignettes. It’s a brilliant means of inducting us into her world, and something of a metaphor for the sudden intimacy between performer and audience. In fact, so credible is Shyam Bhatt’s awkward performance as Treya, that one almost feels voyeuristic bearing witness to it all.
The metaphor of “lavender shortbread tins” transports Treya into her past towards her deceased brother Thanvir. Then, the motif of mild versus spicy food speaks to the tension between being both Indian and British, and the symbolism of Treya’s Ghunghroos (Indian classical dancing anklets with bells on) lingering in a dusty attic suggest the dangers of losing touch with one’s roots. These details lend Ms. Bhatt’s play a deeper poeticism beneath the witty mimicry and chortle-inducing one-liners.
While much of Treya’s observations on life initially seem simplistic and crowd-sourced, the more we learn about her, we see that there is a deeply felt sorrow that becomes clearer as the show goes on. Her efforts to find a “life partner” make more sense in light of her loss. She faces her past and her future with indefatigable humor and a pugnacious attitude. One has no doubt that Treya, simply a charming, socially awkward Indian girl from Croydon, will one day find her center and move forward in life as only she can.
The creative team for “Treya’s Last Dance” includes music composed by Archita Kumar, lighting and sound by Steve Pope, voiceovers/vocals by Arun Kamath, and the production assistant is Jana Dimitrievska.
“Treya’s Last Dance” runs Wednesdays at 8 pm through October 23, with only one performance left. Tickets are $30 in advance; $35 at the door; $25 students/seniors (with ID); and $20 military (with ID). Hudson Guild Theatre is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 90038. Tickets are available in advance through On Stage 411 at https://www.onstage411.com or (323) 965-9996.
The Show Report