A familiar path of one man shows is that of a child learning the value of his childhood as he becomes a man. There you have the essence of Anil Kumar’s “Rise and Shine.” However what gives his show an original spin is that the “child” in question is the offspring of two Indian academics living in America’s heartland, or perhaps its “spleenland”, Ohio. This accounts for the show’s subtitle – “I Thought I Was White”.
Kumar quickly establishes the distinct disassociation between his family life and the world outside their door by pointing out cultural differences, such as the 20-course breakfast his mother made every morning that included all “732 food groups except for beef and healthy”, and that Ohio’s main export was serial killers.
Kumar, with the aid of a beautifully conceived and executed video-dèco from the combined artistry of David Patrick (Projections Designer), Brian Lara (Key Art Designer & Illustrator), Sadie Alexandru (Photographer) and Lock and Monkey Productions (Cinematographer) supporting his narrative, guides us from his childhood as the prized only son, through his troubled teens as both self-proclaimed “asshole” and dedicated “Deadhead”.
But it is when he resolves to visit India after being asked for the umpteenth time, “Where are you from….? No, where are you really from?” that Kumar finally embraces his rich heritage and, in doing so, comes to recognize his parents for the individuals they are.
“Rise and Shine” is somewhat light on conflict, but Kumar more than makes up for this by a full-throttle performance. On a wonderfully Zen set by David Mauer, Kumar bounces and vaults about with all the energy of a room full of Super Balls on meth. Throughout it all, whether he’s listing the dozens of ways his name has been butchered, relating how his dreams of Olympian competition were derailed by a silly student film, or describing his experience of travelling by bus in the Punjab as “riding on a bag of broken rocks”, Kumar conveys a sincerity that both charms and engages his audience.
Under Reena Dutt’s direction, and in concert with the aforementioned video-dèco “Rise and Shine” is both uplifting for the soul and a feast for the eyes.
Out of deference to the show’s creator, I will end this review with his words:
“I’m blessed to keep company with the folks in this program without whom this thing would never have happened…so please, don’t call it a one-man show.”
Anil Kumar can call it whatever he likes, I’ll just call it a wonderful show.
Rise and Shine (I Thought I Was White)
Let Live Theatre
At the Actors Company
916a N. Formosa Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Performances: Sept 13 – Oct 11
Friday & Saturday at 8 p.m.