A World Premiere!

Pratidhwani Proudly Presents

The Banyan Tree

Written by Tulika Kumar
Directed by Agastya Kohli

Starring:
Alpa Dave, Arjun Dave, Rumela Ganguly, Sheeba Jacob, Fox Rain Matthews, Madhura Nirkhe, Payal Patel, Abhijeet Rane, Amrita Seera and Abhi Sheth

When: Sept 6th through 15th.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM.
Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00PM.

Where: SecondStory Repertory,
16587 NE 74th ST, 
(Redmond Town Center)
Redmond, WA 98052



A banyan tree throws down new roots that let it grow and strengthen as a whole. What happens when immigrant Indians throw down roots in foreign soil? The Banyan Tree explores this question through a modern Indian American perspective. 

Three separate stories reflect on what can happen as the immigrant generation tries to hold on to the values and customs of their home land as the next generation readily adopts the ways of the new. 

In The Palm Reader a career house wife searches for meaning in an empty nest while a young woman struggles with love. A forbidden palm reading changes the future for both. 

In The Banerjees Are Coming a son's homecoming unravels when he makes a personal revelation to his father that tests the limits of their relationship. 

And in United States V. Nani Ji an immigrant Indian family engages in a comedic dual of wits with a more idealistic Indian American lawyer over charges of fraud. 

Artists's Perspective: Blog Posts by Cast and Crew


Friction Can Be A Good Thing - A post by Tulika Kumar

"My parents immigrated to America many years ago when trying to find Indian vegetables and spices in the grocery store was an exercise in disappointment, Indian restaurants were scarce, and calling home to hear a familiar voice was incredibly expensive. Whatever the motivation for the move it is seldom easy to uproot yourself from what you know and love."

Trees, People, and their Roots - A post by Agastya Kohli.

"As you are aware, Pratidhwani’s mission is to create performing opportunities for artists of South Asian descent. We have been able to do this by staging Indian plays in Hindi and Bangla, by staging South Asia centric English plays, and last year, we took a play that had nothing to do with South Asia, and painted it with a desi brush. All along, I've wondered, wouldn't it be nice if we could generate our own material, which would be closer to the lives we live here in the US, while our roots extend back to India or elsewhere in South Asia?"

Complexity and Contradiction in being Indian in America, by Shahana Dattagupta

I saw The Banyan Tree by Tulika Kumar on its opening weekend to a sold out show, and I’m reflecting on what about it was so appealing even in three short vignettes.

Sheeba Jacob and Fox Rain Matthews in a scene from
United States V. Nani Ji. Photo: Joe Iano
The Banyan Tree touches and moves you because it presents universal themes in a very specific socio-cultural and temporal context – the Indian-American expatriate’s life in contemporary times. This particular frame provides the storytelling the specific idiosyncrasies of being Indian (in America) – palm readings and old cassette songs, pungent grocery stores and Indianized American homes, immigration and taxes, the nosy neighbor, mothers and fathers with specific behaviors that make you crack up in recognition. But within this frame the playwright touches the universal themes that matter to all of us, no matter where we’re from – the classic move of good storytelling. Challenges and questions of destiny and free will, tradition and liberty, family and marriage, womanhood and manhood, personal and political identity.  An older woman serendipitously finding herself while helping a younger one find her way. A father and son struggling to have the only conversation that truly matters. An immigration situation revealing the underlying inconsistencies, absurdity and hypocrisies of our world’s socio-economic order.

What I also loved about the play was that it raised the appropriate questions without providing the answers or any particular resolution – perhaps a happy outcome of the vignette structure. I also enjoyed the lightness of the storytelling. The play is meant to get us to think even as we laugh, but more importantly, feel – feel the tensions in the complexity and contradictions and ambiguities and absurdities and  ironies and paradoxes that make up what we believe, 99% of the time, to be a sane, regular, ‘normal’ life. It gets us to see our habitual insanity. And through this feeling, emerge a couple hours later perhaps just a bit different in our humanity.
Alpa Dave and Madhura Nirkhe in a scene from
The Palm Reader. Photo: Joe Iano

The actors do a wonderful job in bringing these complexities and contradictions to life, even in the relatively short time they have on stage to accomplish this feat. A special mention is due to Abhijeet Rane, who deftly brings out an annoying, dogmatic husband, a conservative but concerned father, and a ridiculous bum of a son all in three different swift moves. I also very much enjoyed Madhura Nirkhe’s, Alpa Dave’s and Sheeba Jacob’s portrayals of some very different-from-each other female characters. The sets and props brought the situations to life wonderfully – I began laughing before anybody even said anything on stage, because of the intense familiarity they kindled. And finally, kudos to director Agastya Kohli and the entire production team for taking on this project, and working hard to bring out the nuances of such a wonderful play.

Shahana Dattagupta is a Seattle-based writer, singer, visual artist, theater artist and creativity coach. She has written and published three books including one on Creativity, co-edits the monthly global magazine Courageous Creativity, teaches Hindustani classical, and facilitates Creativity Workshops, shaping the paths of many creative individuals. Amongst other projects, she is presently working on her second short play for ACT’s Represent festival.

The Ones that Grow the Hardiest, by Meenakshi Rishi

Did you know that a banyan tree begins its journey as a small seed germinating first in the space and crannies of another host tree? What an apt metaphor for our lives!  Not so long ago, the Indian American community was an immigrant epiphyte quietly sprouting in the crevices of our adopted homeland. Strong banyan trees now stand in place of those tiny seeds and it is not an exaggeration to state that the Indian American diaspora has truly taken root in the US.

Alpa Dave and Madhura Nirkhe in The Palm Reader
Photo: Joe Iano
But, is the mere putting down of roots, a necessary and sufficient condition for our growth and development What kind of growth are we even talking about? Should growth be measured by indicators of stability such acquiring material possessions or earning laurels and accolades? Is growth is measured by our Ivy League degrees, hefty pay packets, and huge bank balances?   If not these then what else should one strive for?  Perhaps nature again offers up some parallels to help with this introspection. We know that trees that grow in challenging natural settings and battle the elements are the ones that grow the hardiest.  Is this also true for the lives of us immigrants?  Can we as a community genuinely grow and develop in an environment of acquiescence that does not challenge us to question our beliefs, customs, values, and norms? Tulika Kumar adroitly handles the complexity of such issues and more in her thought-provoking trilogy, “The Banyan Tree”.
In The Palm Reader a chance encounter transforms the lives of two women who realize the power of agency over acceptance of the status quo.  An admission of truth brazenly pits father against son and threatens to unravel the veneer of a family’s suburban respectability in The Banerjees Are Coming.  In United States V. Nani Ji, we encounter a wily Indian family trying to game the system, only to realize that the “system” is riddled with social injustice and has already been hollowed out by other bigger players.

Abhijeet Rane and Abhi Sheth in The Banerjees are Coming
Photo: Joe Iano
Of course, we are left with more questions than answers at the end of the show.  But, that is exactly what a good play should make us do.  I highly recommend Pratidhwani’s well directed and first ever commissioned play project. The actors, stalwarts as well as newcomers, are all well cast and assay their roles wonderfully. The transitions between the three stories and set changes are managed efficiently.  All in all, a good live theatre experience.

Finally, having been part of the initial reading of this trilogy several years ago and seen the play evolve, I can safely say —Tulika, you've come a long way girl!  May you continue to enthrall us with your vignettes of the Indian American experience in the future.

Friction Can Be A Good Thing, by Tulika Kumar

The friction caused by what we know clashing with what we don't can be a wonderful thing.

My parents immigrated to America many years ago when trying to find Indian vegetables and spices in the grocery store was an exercise in disappointment, Indian restaurants were scarce, and calling home to hear a familiar voice was incredibly expensive. Whatever the motivation for the move it is seldom easy to uproot yourself from what you know and love.

Abhi Sheth and Abhijeet Rane rehearsing a scene from
The Banerjees are Coming. Photo: Shreya Tewari
Some who migrate isolate themselves from the unfamiliar as much as possible, living in a self imposed cocoon of sorts. Some are quite eager to assimilate and happily take up the new hairstyles and world views. All who immigrate have their sense of what is right or proper or moral challenged at some point. Like Anupama in The Palm Reader it may be a questioning of your expected role in life. Or like Jagdish in The Banerjees Are Coming it may be an act of defiance by a child who seems to have strayed far into unknown territory. But though it may not feel so in the short term these frictions can be wonderful things! For such challenges to what we believe can help us grow as people and cultures and as humanity in general.

I love the banyan tree as a metaphor for growth - the throwing down of new roots to strengthen the tree as a whole. To me growth entails a change of some kind, a facing of something new. I decided to leave a career in software a few years back. It was work that brought me a nice income and all the comforts that come with that but it was work done without any passion. I took the plunge and quit the software world to pursue something I had an intense desire to try - writing. With no background in writing but plenty of love I wrote this play. It has been an amazing and incredibly fulfilling journey through the playwriting process - from writing to workshops and staged readings to a full production. I hope this play is the first of many.

I thank you for coming out to see The Banyan Tree and for supporting local theater. And I encourage you to throw down roots in what is new to you.

Sincerely,
Tulika Kumar

Trees, People, and their Roots, by Agastya Kohli

As you are aware, Pratidhwani’s mission is to create performing opportunities for artists of South Asian descent. We have been able to do this by staging Indian plays in Hindi and Bangla, by staging South Asia centric English plays, and last year, we took a play that had nothing to do with South Asia, and painted it with a desi brush. All along, I've wondered, wouldn't it be nice if we could generate our own material, which would be closer to the lives we live here in the US, while our roots extend back to India or elsewhere in South Asia?

Tulika Kumar
Playwright
In early 2011, I met with some local desi writers and invited them to write short, one-act plays, that could be stitched together to create a local, home-grown evening of theatre.

Tulika wrote a play called ‘The Hand Reader’, and I enjoyed reading it so much, I asked her to write some more. She in return told me how much she enjoyed writing a play, and was going to write two more! She then sent me two plays of about the same length as the first, called ‘The Son’ and ‘United States V. Nani Ji’. She called the collection ‘The Banyan Tree Trilogy’.

A banyan tree grows from its roots in its native soil, and after reaching a stable stature, it drops new roots from its branches towards the ground. This metaphor of a tree parallels the stories of immigrant families: people who grew up in one culture, with one tradition, migrate to a new land and established new roots. The new roots – the next generation – breathe in the ways of a new culture, of this new soil, and take on a different hue, while still connected to the grand old tree.

After a couple of workshops, some updates to the script, and slightly modified titles, what you will see when you come to The Banyan Tree, is the first play jointly developed from scratch by a playwright and Pratidhwani, and the debut of a new local playwright. I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am about this new partnership, and of all the fruit this tree will bear in the days to come.  


Welcome to our little play. We hope you will enjoy the show.