A gifted and haunted older sister and an air-headed younger sister duo, along with their traditional immigrant father, struggle with mental illness in the family while opening a new shop. It sounds like a clichéd story of a family overcoming their dark past and everything is back to normal and everyone is happy at the end. However, it was a pleasant surprise to be wrong.
Little Pretty and The Exceptional is one of the six plays that charts new Canadian experiences at the Factory Theatre in Toronto.
— Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen (@JaclynMQH) April 8, 2017
It’s a bittersweet family story that deals with heavy themes. Simran (Farah Merani) is an aspiring lawyer — the exceptional — while her younger sister Jasmeet’s (Shruti Kothari) highest ambition is to be prom queen — little pretty — and spending time with her boyfriend, Iyar (Shelley Antony). Dilpreet (Sugith Varughese), their father, acts traditional and thinks differently from the sisters, but together they plan the opening of their sari shop on Gerrard Street East. Simran becomes frantic after receiving poor LSAT results. Over time, Simran’s mental state declines, and the family has to support each other through the hardship.
The acting was notable, particularly Sugith Varughese as Dilpreet, the father. Sugith portrayed the character to a T. He never broke character and even put on an accent. Even without lines, all the actors still stayed in character; it was most noticeable during the microwave scene, when the actors were waiting for microwaved Chinese food. Iyar, portrayed by Shelley Antony, lacked depth as a character originally. He would awkwardly leave when the scene became serious and didn’t quite fit. However, in the second part, Iyar became more aware, resulting in a better character. Jasmeet also matured in the second part, but lacked a reaction when she learned new information about their family’s tragedy.
The set was spectacular. The lighting was the most impressive aspect; it helped smoothly transition between scenes and set the mood of each scene. A good example is when Simran was hallucinating — the flickering of the lights in the shop added a horror feel. The usage of all of the stage was wonderful. An example of this is Simran peeking from the curtain and stepping out from there. All of it is made even more impressive by the fact that the whole story took place in one location, the shop.
— Sugith Varughese (@SugithVarughese) April 6, 2017
The playwriting/script/plot was good. The struggles of an immigrant family, the ties of family and the toll of mental illness on everyone was portrayed well. The family strain when Simran was slipping away from them was tear-jerking. Simran having schizophrenia wasn’t shown well; the various symptoms were questionable, especially in a specific scene where Simran was detached from her body. It could’ve been interpreted in many ways. It could’ve shown disillusion of reality or another personality (Dissociative Identity Disorder) or Depersonalization Disorder. It was also disappointing to how quick and easy it was for Simran to find the right medication that works and getting the correct diagnosis, considering the play took a minute or two to microwave Chinese food for authenticity.
The story set a base for the actors, but the actors really brought it to life. Everyone stayed focused throughout the production and the set allowed the scenes to feel more real. The plot had so much potential, but could’ve been more precise. It’s a play worth checking out. Unfortunately, Little Pretty and The Exceptional showings ended on April 30th but the Factory Theatre offers other productions also worth looking at.
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