Playwright and performer Anita Majumdar has a lot on her mind. Same Same but Different tackles racism, shadism, the immigrant experience, tyrannical and nonsensical directors, the underside of Bollywood's glamour, sexual attraction, etc, etc. Majumdar also has a witty way with words and the bonus vocabulary of classical Indian dance to express what words just cannot. Unfortunately, what Majumdar does not have with Same Same but Different is a firm director/editor to curb an excess of riches.
Clocking in at just under three hours on opening night, Same Same but Different bristles with provocative ideas, is filled with hearty laughs and magical musical sequences, but quickly grows repetitive and obvious and is simply much too long. Dance in general is often structured on a repeated gesture that is varied or built on and grows in meaning. Same Same but Different takes several metaphors and situations and repeats them in the hopes they will echo and grow in meaning. Often they do, but just as often they are buried in an abundance of metaphors that are underlined and presented instead of being revealed for us to discover. There are truly shocking moments involving whiteface and prejudice but they have been so telegraphed that they lose their surprise and then, inexplicably, they are explained just to be sure we understand.
Majumdar is a wonderful presence - she has an uncanny Streisand-like ability to present a character who is overbearing and overflowing with self-absorbed self-confidence, and render them lovable - and when an idea flows into an illustrative or commentary dance, the magic of what Same Same but Different could be is revealed. Nicco Lorenzo Garcia is an able foil and generates physical heat with Majumdar. Unfortunately the duo is undone by a talky script that relies almost totally on contrivances to drive the plot. Watching Garcia struggle to inject excitement into a long second act speech outlining the history of the Philippines is tragic when he has danced his emotions, and some complex ideas, to life in the first act.
The best laughs of the show go to Reza Jacobs whose voice is the omnipresent but distracted and clueless authority figure who states the dilemmas that our characters face. He is hilarious but vicious as he urges Majumdar to stay out of the sun and stay pale as he wants, "Everyone to believe you are the smartest scientist." The casual racism/shadism makes for deliciously uncomfortable comedy as we cross over the line of laughing with Jacobs, to laughing at Jacobs, to trying to catch our balance while confronting our own racism/shadism.
Same Same but Different is beautifully designed and presented and, with a trim - and the ability to trust that the audience will understand what is being presented on an intellectual as well as an emotional level - it will be a powerful and magical evening of theatre without losing its important ideas. Thematically Same Same but Different hammers home that, "You need a little darkness to see the stars." The production Same Same but Different just needs a little ruthless consolidation and cutting to shine like a super nova.
Same Same but Different continues until Sat, March 8 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave. passemuraille.ca