Rukmini’s Gold, winner of the 2015 Toronto Fringe New Play Contest, is an ambitious epic play that chronicles one family through five generations as they travel from India to Africa to the United Kingdom and then to North America, exploring the idea that family, and a sense of one’s heritage makes one richer than any physical piece of gold.
There are a great many strengths in Radha S. Menon’s play, which is a snippet of ten different scenes, spanning over a century and all taking place in a train station. The concept here, of chronicling the sprawling extended family of one, elderly, South Asian woman, is an interesting one. There are themes of genetics and the ways in which different branches of family trees converge and disconnect over time, ending up with people with seemingly different ethnicities, nationalities, and experiences, actually being quite closely related. It also explores the cyclical nature of familial stories. Many of these stories are also grounded ardently in the woman’s experience, which is refreshing to see, and the relationships between mothers and daughters and sisters are the most richly mined.
The potential in this play is staggering, but the biggest challenge at the moment is that most of the characters are just the hallow shell of individuals, people meant to represent a certain cultural experience at a certain time, which can even creep into unsavoury stereotypes at times (the suicidal Aboriginal hippie, the flamboyant, effeminate gay man and the jolly romantic, Irish revolutionary). The only character who emerges as an entirely three dimensional individual is the sister, played beautifully by Ellora Patnaik, who has a monologue about how she shunned her niece because she didn’t approve of her dead sister’s marriage. Menon is much more skilled at writing monologues than dialogue, which contributes to her wooden characters in dialogue-heavy scenes. She would benefit from allowing the words to come from the creation of fully-imagined individuals, rather than just using them as mouthpieces for exposition and clarification of the plot points and the family tree branches.
In all, I hope that Menon keeps working on Rukmini’s Gold, I think there is absolutely a great, epic play (or perhaps even a novel) in here; there is a lot about these people and their story that is, as yet, un-mined and that’s a lot of what makes these people most captivating.
TWISI FRINGE RATING:
Rukmini’s Gold plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:
July 10 at 12:00 PM buy tickets
July 12 at 07:00 PM buy tickets