Sultans of the Street - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Anusree Roy, Directed by Nina Lee Aquino
Runs until May 15th, 2014
Sultans of the Street first presents a colourful world of the streets of India before slowly revealing pieces of information that show the dark side lying underneath all the floating coloured sheets (in a beautiful and versatile set by Camelia Koo). When two brothers (Ali Momen and Colin Doyle) skip school to fly kites, they encounter siblings (Mina James and Richard Lee) dressed up in costumes, begging on the street. The brothers are intrigued but discover the siblings giving the money they've "earned" to th
eir "Aunty" (Zorana Sadiq) before Aunty catches the brothers in a lie and blackmails them to work for her.
The new play does not shy away from a controversial subject into a world I know little about (and I imagine the intended audience sitting here in Toronto isn't that knowledgable about either), and presents the street life of exploited children in a matter-of-fact way. While the machinations of the plot tend to bog down the dramatic flow of the overall play, there's a lot of chilling information being introduced for us to take in before we get the true verity of the situation.
Did I mention this is theatre for young people? Ultimately, there's a hopefulness to the play as things get worse for the brothers, who try to convince the siblings that their way-of-life under Aunty's exploitation isn't their only option.
There's a boldness to Roy presenting the dark hard facts in such a plain, this-is-the-way-it-is way, and with some beautiful sweet moments between the siblings under the stars (and the shelter of umbrellas), where death and their sad situation are just accepted, gives the whole situation a heartening reality check. The story does not soften things or talk down to the intended young audience, but it is quite an eye-opener for adults alike.
Nina Lee Aquino keeps things balanced with some amusing double casting with Sadiq playing multiple roles as the adults who pass these street kids, all in silly costumes, and Momen and Doyle have a nice brotherly rapport that highlights the imbalance of power within the brothers (that eventually leads to their troubles) while also showcasing the protective love they hold. James and Lee’s moments under the umbrellas are sweet and moving.
While the pacing and careful reveals tended to slow down the drama and over-spelled things out, there’s also something to be said for presenting such a difficult subject matter without moral judgement.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com
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