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SCRUTINY | Pamela Mala Sinha’s Sprawling New Is A Rich Theatrical Experience

By Paula Citron on May 4, 2023

Necessary Angel Theatre Company, CanadianStage & Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's production of New (Photo: Dahlia Katz)
Necessary Angel Theatre Company, CanadianStage & Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s production of New (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Necessary Angel Theatre Company, CanadianStage & Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/New, written by Pamela Mala Sinha, directed by Alan Dilworth, Berkeley Street Theatre, Apr. 25 to May 14. Tickets available here.

Pamela Mala Sinha’s play New is a big, sprawling, behemoth of a production featuring multi-characters and many plots. Fortunately, Sinha can create real people which can hold an audience. While some plot developments are predictable, others are not, which adds to audience interest. As a result, New is a rich theatrical experience.

The play features three Bengali couples in Winnipeg in 1970, which is one of the many meanings of the word “new”. These immigrants support each other in their new city, and their closeness is both a boon and a curse. All of them have their secrets. Sinha has loosely based the narrative on the experiences of her own family and their friends, and so New is rooted in reality, which is one of its strengths. Everything that happens rings true.

The relationship between Sita (playwright Sinha) and Sachin (Fuad Ahmed) has been blighted by the death of their young daughter. Aisha (Dalal Badr) and Ash (Shelly Antony), on the other hand, desperately want a child. They also seem more modern in their dress and outlook than the others.

The last is a complicated trio. Qasim (Ali Kazmi) has a White girlfriend Abby (Alicia Johnston), but he has been guilted into an arranged marriage with Nuzha (Mirabella Sundar Singh). With Nuzha’s arrival to join a husband she has never met, New moves into high gear and races to its strained conclusion.

Ali Kazmi and Mirabella Sundar Singh in New (Photo: Dahlia Katz)
Ali Kazmi and Mirabella Sundar Singh in New (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

These immigrants are not your struggling new arrivals that many plays feature. They are at the higher end of society. For example, two are medical doctors. The question here is, how do traditions collide with their new world? That is just one of the many issues Sinha deals with in New. At times the play can slide into soap opera, but the writing is never mawkish, and always intelligent.

To handle the sprawl, set designer Lorenzo Savoini has created three distinct 1970-ish rooms — a kitchen, living room and bedroom. Titles on the wall tell us whose apartment we are in. In fact, so huge is the set, that backstage spills out into the theatre lobby. Each room is banded by neon bars, courtesy designer Hugh Conacher, which light up when action moves from room to room. The actors even stand in front of a bar of neon to indicate when they are on the street.

Designer Michelle Bohn has fashioned a huge number of costumes, both traditional and modern, and the many changes announce the passage of time. The saris, in particular, are gorgeous. And remember, the play takes place in 1970, so Bohn has also had to create period, which she has done marvellously well. This is a play rich in details.

Director Alan Dilworth has done a masterful job in keeping control of his forces. It takes a bit of time to figure out who is with whom, but once locked into each relationship, the audience can watch the complicated narrative unfold at will. The play is not just about the couples. The men and women also have relationships with each other outside their twosomes (or threesomes), which also adds interest.

The acting is uniformly strong (although Sinha has to speak up), and director Dilworth has certainly worked on individuality. The cast creates real characters, and not stereotypes or cyphers. By the end of the play, I felt I know these people. Realism is one of New’s strong suits.

Could the play use an edit? Yes. Does it matter? No. I think I can speak for the audience when I say that one does come to care for the characters, and the lives that circumstances have forced them to lead.


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Paula Citron
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