Hasan (Nadeem Phillip) tells Haseena (Risha Nanda) about his dream of playing cricket in Canada. (photo by Emily Cooper)
I have to admit I’ve never seen a cricket match in all the years I’ve lived in Vancouver. I’ve seen games in other countries – but I never knew Stanley Park had a field for cricket going back to the 1890s and a clubhouse that just turned 100.
In fact, the pitch at Brockton Oval is considered rather hallowed ground by some and forms a focal point in The Men in White, the current production at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage.
Playwright Anosh Irani takes the audience from India, where dreamers see Canada as a land of refuge; to Canada, where dreams don’t always turn out the way people hope; to the world of cricket, where even a “duck” doesn’t hurt too badly as long as you don’t have to borrow a “box.”
Based partly on the author’s true experience at a chicken slaughterhouse, the play is set in two different locations – a chicken stand in Bombay and a cricket clubhouse in Vancouver.
In India, 18-year-old Hasan dreams of becoming a famous cricket player and playing in Vancouver with his brother. As he laments his lot in life, he admires a local girl from afar, trying to woo her, despite becoming tongue-tied and awkward whenever she comes by. His adoptive father, who owns the shop, looks after him, trying to impart wisdom about life, albeit in rather unorthodox ways.
In Vancouver, Hasan’s brother, Abdul, has been living and working in a restaurant illegally, after arriving on a tourist visa. He’s embarrassed to tell his brother of his circumstance, and the only thing that keeps his spirits up is to be able to play his favourite sport on a beautiful grass cricket field – a privilege for which he is immensely grateful. He’s particularly impressed because Don Bradman, a renowned cricket player, had said in 1948: “The Brockton Point ground is the prettiest upon which it has been my pleasure to play.”
In the clubhouse, Hasan and his teammates discuss the game, each other’s lives and the issues of the day, but come to blows when racist sentiment arises. A doctor who had emigrated from Bombay takes issue with Abdul. His angry outburst ends with him declaring, “I will not allow Muslims in this country!”
The scene is disturbing in its familiarity, given President Trump’s machinations, but also very touching, as the other team members rally around Abdul in support.
While thought-provoking, the play doesn’t offer up any answers. Its forte is in the writing and directing. The performance is jam-packed with witty repartee, sarcastic barbs and playful insults that are tossed at one another like verbal confetti.
Irani has a skill in wordplay and humour that leaves the audience feeling at once unsettled by some of what’s being said, while appreciating its delivery. With six of the cast members almost talking over one another at times, the outcome could have been rather messy, and the play needed the deft hand of Rachel Ditor at the helm to direct the characters in their split-second timing. The set design by Amir Ofek is minimalist, but in some ways reflects a cricket game. The two locations share one stage and action alternates between the two, as it would in a sporting match. Ofek’s design enables the sets to coexist, while still being visually separated by the few props and use of different lighting.
The Men in White runs at Granville Island Stage until March 11 (artsclub.com). Irani’s work – he is also an author – has gained national and international acclaim and honours. Take the opportunity to see it for yourself.
Baila Lazarus is a freelance writer and media strategist in Vancouver. Her consulting services are at phase2coaching.com.