|Image courtesy Dreamland Arts|
|Zaraawar Mistry in The Other Mr. Gandhi.|
Zaraawar Mistry doesn't want to spoil the experience of The Other Mr. Gandhi for anyone, so he's reluctant to talk specifically about the show, and even asks audiences to do the same when recommending it to others. "I want them to come with as clean of a slate as possible," he said.
The piece gets another public airing this week as part of Illusion Theater's Fresh Ink series, following its February debut.
"I'm being a little evasive and oblique about getting into too much detail. That's part of the aesthetic of the piece. There's a whole element of what can be revealed and what cannot be revealed that is essential to the play itself. If there is too much up front, it could ruin the experience of the show," Mistry said earlier this week at Dreamland Arts, the theater space he runs with his wife, Leslye Orr, in St. Paul.
That's fitting for the piece, as Mistry created it entirely in isolation. "Not even my wife and child knew what it was until I did it for an audience here in February," he said.
The piece follows Sohrab and Rustum and Indian Cowboy, a pair of earlier solo pieces by Mistry that explored his heritage. Mistry hails from India and is a Parsi, a minority group who emigrated from Iran around the 10th century. "We have our own traditions and rituals that we brought over, and our own places of worship. It's different than what typically is in India," he said.
"My work is informed by three things: being Parsi, being from India, and being an immigrant to America," Mistry added. "In all three solo shows I have done, those things are prevalent. The characters will be different, but there are similarities audiences can pick up on."
In this piece, Mistry also explores the relationship between India and Pakistan. It centers on an India air force pilot who goes on a mission to Pakistan during the 1971 war between the countries. "The countries are tied at the hip, and that shows up in many different ways," he said.
"One of the key things is that in every piece the Parsis are dying out. It is already a small community. There is threat of extinction that affects the psyche. There is also the whole notion of being a transplant; of growing up in one culture and then experiencing this other culture that permeates all of the work," Mistry said.
Mistry presented The Other Mr. Gandhi at Dreamland in February, eventually presenting a dozen performances in the 40-seat theater. The run drew the attention of Illusion, who added it to the slate of the 25th Fresh Ink series.
"Your whole life you never conceive of making theater on your own. You either work with a director or fellow actors. In my other [solo] plays I've had live musicians and designers. It is a hugely collaborative form," Mistry said. "Over time, I have been working with fewer and fewer elements, and have stripped it away to what is absolutely necessary to tell the story I want to tell. My last solo piece had just me and a musician, but he was hidden offstage. The piece was lit only by candles. There was no stage lighting or any set to speak of."
The stripping down has continued with The Other Mr. Gandhi. "When I perform this piece, I do it without the assistance of any technicians. It is part of the aesthetic of the piece," he said.
Working in isolation wasn't easy. "I came so close to giving up and breaking down. I had set a date when I would first share it with my family. I almost lost faith and didn't know if I could pull it off. The deciding factor was that if it was a bomb, I was the only one who would have to deal with it. I didn't have to worry about anybody else's ego or time. I only have myself to disappoint," Mistry said.
Having Dreamland certainly helped in that. "I could just close the doors and work," he said. "It's very rare when you could in a position to go out on a limb and not feel threatened."
IF YOU GO:
The Other Mr. Gandhi
Illusion Theater, Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts
528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday
$15; $36 for a package of all three Fresh Ink productions
For tickets and information, call 612.339.4944 or visit online.
528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN