This latest offering
from the Kali Theatre Company presents a wealthy but ailing mother, who is
visited in dusty Calcutta by her two expatriate daughters.
Esther, the elder
and more reserved sister, lives in London and is a loyal housewife to her
husband and two children. In contrast, the brash Silvie resides in Los Angeles,
snorts cocaine and has money and therapy in equal measure.
When the two girls arrive in their mother's small and stuffy apartment - the
very rooms in which they grew up - they are shocked to discover Mozelle has
suffered a heart attack. As her health deteriorates - she has bribed the doctor
to release her from hospital and refuses to take tablets - the past begins
to unravel and both daughters are forced to confront some uncomfortable revelations
Aside from being a family drama, this Shelley Silas play boasts an intriguing
extra dimension; all its characters are Indian Jews, who can trace their routes
back to a man called Shalom Aaron Hakohen. After leaving his birthplace of
Aleppo in 1788 and heading for Basra, Baghdad and finally India, he settled
in Calcutta. Here he helped establish a Baghdadi Jewish community that was
swelled by several thousand immigrants from Baghdad and Aleppo.
At present, there are only about thirty Indian Jews still living in Calcutta,
and this play uses mother Mozelle to symbolise a community fading from existence.
Certain exchanges during the play leave the audience with pertinent questions
to ponder, such as what will happen to the historic synagogues of Calcutta
when all the worshippers are gone?
The first half of Calcutta Kosher is pacey and very enjoyable. Slick dialogue
is laced with light-hearted humour and sharp one-liners. As sisters Esther
and Silvie, Harvey Virdi and Shelley King play off each other extremely effectively,
while Jamila Massey infuses the part of Mozelle with just the right blend
of headstrong histrionics.
A good word also for Seema Bowri as Maki, the young girl who has always lived
and served in the family residence but is suddenly revealed to be a blood
relative. Although the character is underdeveloped, Bowri makes a good fist
of the part, using strong body language and terse delivery to produce some
Sadly, the production goes off the boil after the interval. In contrast to
the opening hour, which climaxes in high drama, the play limps awkwardly towards
its inevitable conclusion. After penning a roaring opening, Silas's well of
inspiration appears to have run dry; what other explanation can there be for
revisiting a tame joke about pickles several times.
The character development of Esther and Silvie also splutters and they plunge
into ponderous bouts of soul searching and introspection. As Esther, Virdi
struggles with the emotional demands of the part; her crying is very unconvincing.
As for the matriarch Mozelle, she crashes from cheerful resignation and witty
repartee to an invalid who can offer little more than mutterings and moans.
At times, this play is moving and poignant - the breakdown of dedicated servant
Siddique (an excellent cameo from Richard Santhiri) in the final scene is
powerful and a potential tearjerker.
But while Calcutta Kosher delivers an interesting history lesson, provokes
some serious thought and delivers some genuine laughs and dark comedy, you
can't help feeling it could have been a whole lot better.
A Waddington 2004. For syndication rights, please email.