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ArtsEmerson brings ‘A Brimful of Asha’ to digital stage

Ravi Jain joins real-life mom in true-to-life play

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
ArtsEmerson brings ‘A Brimful of Asha’ to digital stage
Real-life mom Asha Jain and her son and actor Ravi Jain. PHOTO: Cylla von Tiedemann

What began as a challenge from Ravi Jain to his mother Asha to join him on the stage has slowly evolved into the critically-acclaimed hit play “A Brimful of Asha,” the true and heartwarming story of family, marriage and the quest for the perfect bride.

The play is based on Jain’s real-life experience of his parents searching for potential brides for him on his trip to India in 2007, despite his not being sold on the idea of getting married. Written and directed by Jain, “A Brimful of Asha” is presented in cinematic version by Toronto’s WhyNot Theatre (of which Jain is founding artistic director) on ArtsEmerson’s digital stage through March 22.

Jain, who lived at home with his parents in Toronto at that time, had been telling friends about his experience in India, and the reactions were always the same — laughter. Friends kept telling him to turn his story into a movie, but he didn’t know how. He decided to turn it into a one-man show instead. At the time, he was a resident for new writing at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.

"A Brimful of Asha" PHOTO: Erin Brubacher

“A Brimful of Asha” PHOTO: Erin Brubacher

At home one day, joking with his mother, he told her, “I’m making this one-man show about our story and I’m going to tell the world what a terrible mother you are.” She responded, “You’re an idiot. If I was on stage with you people would see how stupid you are and how right I was,” recalls Jain, speaking by phone earlier this month.

They bantered a little bit and then Jain challenged his mom, he says, to “put her money where her mouth was.” They began improvising the story around a circle of people and started telling it over and over again. Eventually, they both became comfortable sharing it with a live audience. The play premiered four years later, in January 2012, at the Tarragon Theatre. Of his mother’s first-time acting and being on stage, Jain says, “It was amazing always to see how they responded to my mom right away. She had a rapport; she was very funny and very honest.”

“A Brimful of Asha” explores the cultural and generational clash between Jain, who is Canadian and has pursued acting and a theater career as opposed to a more traditional career, and his Indian mother, who immigrated to Canada with her husband Ramesh, where she supported him in the founding of his own business while raising Jain and his brother.

Although Jain’s trip to India is very specific to his own life at the time, it has universal themes that families of all backgrounds can relate to. Over the years, the multi-talented artist has received comments from theater-goers about how the play resonates with them and how his mom reminds them of their own mother. People will come up to him and say, “We have this exact same conversation at our dinner table,” Jain says.

It’s been rewarding to hear those comments. “That’s been a great kind of feeling, that we definitely hit something there for people to experience,” he says.

After almost a decade of working together, Jain believes that his mother has a better understanding of and appreciation for what he does. “I think the theater was always a really weird thing for her, and she never really understood why anyone would waste their time making it or going to it,” explains the actor and director. “I think she definitely sees the value and understands the importance of that storytelling and the exchange from an audience, and all the work that goes into it.”

He adds, “I think that that, for sure, is something that she can definitely appreciate more — although she’ll still tell me, ‘Stop doing it and get a real job.’”

Toronto’s WhyNot Theatre brings “A Brimful of Asha” to ArtsEmerson’s digital venue via on-demand streaming through Monday, March 22 at 10 p.m. Tickets for the show are Pick-Your-Price (from free to $100). Tickets may be reserved online or by phone at 617-824-8400, Tuesday–Saturday 12–6 p.m.