September 30, 2007
By Al Bresloff
"Bollywood" has come to Chicago! Silk Road Theatre Project has opened its new season with a world premiere of Shishir Kurup's Merchant on Venice, a comic look at what would happen if The Bard met Bollywood. This has some very funny spots and combines poetic writings with L.A. Punk, Hindu-Muslim tensions, a Latino influence against an American backdrop. Directed by Stuart Carden on a simple set by Lee Keenan, this is a two and a half hour romp with some solid performances and of course, one very large typical Bollywood moment (with lip-sync and dancing). If you have ever seen one of these films, you will know what to expect. If not, you will find yourself "loving it!"
There are a few stories mixed in to the plot and the two stories merge with the two major players-the money lender Devendra (Kamal Hans) and Sharuk (a role handled smoothly by Anish Jethmalani) who are in conflict and have an agreement that must be kept. I will not fill you in on this as it needs to be witnessed. There are also some love stories, Pushpa (Pranidhi Varshney) must marry a man who picks out a CD that is correct as is the wish of her dead father and luckily for her, she gets the man she wants Jitendra (Andy Nagraj). The other love story involves the daughter of Sharuk, Noorani (Sadieh Rifai) who runs off with a Latino musician, Armando (Gerardo Cardenas). In the end all is well for these couples. The characters that make this show really funny are a multitude played by Vincent P. Mahler, Marvin Eduardo Quihada (who does a Frank Sinatra type of guy), Tariq Vasudeva (some very funny moments), and Madrid St. Angelo (who jumps in and out of characters he plays with the greatest of ease and handles each role to perfection). The other cast member, Amira Sabbagh is Kavita, the best friend/"sister" to Pushpa who is ready to live her life to the fullest.
While this show is full of cliches and lots of innuendo, it is well worth the experience. I am sure that as time goes on and more audience reaction is noted, the play will take on some of the changes that will bring it to a better place, but for right now, it is a look at a mixture of cultures and Mr. Kurup should be proud of what he has started.