There’s this quote in Jean Rhys’ novel, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, which goes like this: “Justice. I’ve heard that word. I tried it out. I wrote it down. I wrote it down several times and always it looked like a damn cold lie to me. There is no justice.”
It might be a slight exaggeration, but the anthology of skits presented in First World Problems certainly reads like Sargasso, as the tales presented by at-times heart tearing monologues come clashing full force towards the audience. There’s an element of mischief, as if we’re all in on these little secrets, but instead of the usual sly but good-natured wink-wink-nudge-nudge, this time it’s on common grounds of racism, conflict, and dashed dreams.
First World Problems presents as a collection of stories acted out by a cast of twenty, who are almost always present, either as the main protagonist or as a prop in the background. Stories feature either a small representative ensemble, or solo roles highlighting the prowess of an actor. Set in the Basement Theatre’s upstairs studio space, it’s an intimate experience designed for the audience to get up close and personal with not only the actors, but the stories as well.
It’s a show that takes a while to absorb, and when you do, you’re suddenly left with retrospection that doesn’t leave a particularly great taste on your palate. These works are designed to arouse certain emotive responses, and certainly, they did for me. The second scene, Date Night, acted out by Raj Singh and Utsav Patel, from a script written by Bala Murali Shingade, had me whispering in to my friend’s ear “that’s my life!” Like many in the cast, I too am caught between two cultures, two worlds constantly at odds. For much of the night, there were far too many things I could identify with.
One scene requiring mention is Mustaq Missouri’s intoxicating ‘audition’, cycling through a multitude of characters, both film and Shakespearean, as well as iconic musicians. The talent displayed evokes even more distress as you realize, thanks to color casting, just how greatness is hushed in our arts. And it’s a recurring theme.
Multiple stories explore the heartbreak, the difficulties, and the discriminations people of color face in this country, but always tinged with an element of wry humour, daring the audience to allow themselves to laugh. Even in the direst of circumstances the writers could provide gut-bursting laughter, at once melancholic as well as joyous. Maybe that’s slightly too pretentious of a way to put it, but it feels as if that’s the language required to describe the show.
On the more practical side, the music was infectious, and the lighting superbly timed. A major criticism that can be had is that at a run time of 1.5 hours, there are no breaks. Considering the type of stories being told, there may have been recuse for a small, 5-10 minute break for the audience to catch their breaths. To counter that point, there are in-built “breaks” in the form of “lighter” stories, but it still requires a level of engagement from the audience. Certain timings and actions from the full cast stumbled here and there, but it certainly wasn’t to the detraction of the overall presentation.
And it’s a bit telling, to be honest, how much theatre like this is needed when the season completely sold out prior to opening night. Sadly I can’t tell you to go see it now – as everyone should – but next time Agaram Productions come out with a new show, I’ll definitely be in line for a ticket.
- Great writing
- Impassioned performances
- Occasional stumbling of lines
- Length of show