Meena’s Dream takes a look at the impossible struggle of a single parent immigrant family surviving in America. The story is told form the perspective of 9 year old Meena, who deals with her mother’s illness using both her daydreams and nightmares. Hindu God Krishna joins Meena as her spirit guide in her quest to gain medicine for her mother. Throughout the play Meena must fight against the fears Krisha calls “the worry machine” so that she can stay strong enough to help her mother.
Meena’s Dream is an one-woman show performed by Anu Yadav who takes on an impressive amount of different characters including Meena, Meena’s Indian mother, Lord Krisha, various fantastical creatures, and other minor characters. Taking on the burden of playing all the charactres in a play must be daunting to any actor, and at times it made Yardav’s performance feel a bit un-grounded. She plays Meena in an almost constant state of panic with a warbling voice that seems it might bust to tears at any moment. By leaving Meena in such a heightened state for almost the entire play Yadav gives herself little room to build the emotional life of the character.
The play had a similar problem with the arch. The show is structured to alternate between Meena’s dream-life and her everyday life. Meena’s dreams have her pacing back and forth from get go, so that by the 3rd or 4th dream it feels as if the piece is a bit stuck on one-note. Director Patrick Crowley attempts to help her by giving her a flashlight at times, or taking her further downstage, but these attempts don’t go far enough to distinguish the sequences.
When dealing with dreams there are such possibilities to create a fantastical world, whether it be with lights, movement, set, and I wonder at the choice to use so few devices, although fans of pure storytelling may argue simplicity is required.
Where Yadav truly shines is the in transitions between characters and creating Meena’s real life characters so that they are both likable and distinct. There was never confusion about which person Yadav was taking on, and Meena’s mother especially is so life-like and believable that she has us rooting for her from the beginning. She also takes us to Meena’s school where Meena finds a way to turn a bully into a friend. The interchange between the little girls is a pleasure to watch.
Another shining element of this piece was the music, written and performed live by Sam McCormmally, Anjna Swaminathan, and Rajna Swaminathan. The Swaminathans in particular executed a beautiful combination of South Indian violin and percussion that is both engaging and perfect for the style of the piece.
Examining the ever growing holes in the American dream through the eyes of a 9 year-old, is conceptually great, because it keep presents a difficult issue in a rather subtle way.We are not beaten over the head with the idea of poverty, but rather given a heartfelt examination of good people in a bad situation. Fans of storytelling, Indian folktales, or new work that seeks to challenge current policy should give Meena’s Dream a go.
Meena’s Dream plays through January 18th, 2014 at Forum Theatre— Round House Theatre Silver Spring— 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD 20910, to purchase tickets call Brown Paper Tickets (800) 838-3006, or buy online.