I abhor forms, especially long ones. The government offers some that are particularly vexing. The longest one I’ve filled out was maybe… five pages? I shudder at the dehumanizing experience of, say, hundreds of pages! An IMM-Permanent Resident, currently presented by Why Not Theatre at The Theatre Centre as part of this years RISER Toronto, is a dramatization of one couple’s extended ordeal with government bureaucracy as they seek Permanent Resident status.
Written and performed by Neha Poduval and Himanshu Sitlani, produced by Nautanki Bazaar, the play’s development mirrors its narrative. Real life couple Neha and Himanshu have gone through three rounds of immigration paperwork—to get Neha’s Permanent Resident status—and three RISER Project cycles—during a pandemic!—to get the production on its feet.
As they reach various sections of the form, their frustration transports them to the past—to whichever moment in their relationship is dredged up during the process. In this way, we jump back and forth in time, learning about them as individuals and as a spousal team.
We catch glimpses of their courtship in Mumbai, India, where they dream of a glorious future. They enact their fraught interactions with hilariously judgemental parents. Lighting designer André du Toit bathes the more romantic flashbacks in deep pinks and oranges, suggesting not only the colourful intensity of lndia, but also their shared fantasy of a better life somewhere else.
Neha and Himanshu inhabit a world of transition, their lives in a constant state of packing and unpacking. To give form to this idea, set and costume designer Jung Hye-Kim has luggage strewn about the stage floor, a raised platform of cardboard boxes at one end. In the same way people live out of packages during a move, they pull key props from suitcases as needed.
To capture the feeling of the immigration process, some moments play out as stylized, playfully theatrical versions of events—from gangster flick to Bollywood to game show. The title itself is a clever play on the endless IMM-labelled forms they trudge through.
The play is, for the most part, very funny. The couple descend to some dark places though, as the less-than-ideal circumstances of their lives in Canada take a toll. His night shifts and her lack of sleep without him figure prominently. The fights are awful because they feel petty and unnecessary, but so unbearably relatable.
They address the audience, asking absurdly specific, tricky to answer questions pulled from the immigration forms. It is an interrogation, the intimate details of a life laid out for examination before being reduced to administrative content to be filed away. On top of this, they suggest a further indignity—the harsh scrutiny that darker skin provokes.
There is a feisty, unpolished charm to Poduval and Sitlani’s performances. And director/sound designer Miquelon Rodriguez gives us plenty of dynamic visual and auditory flourishes. At 75 minutes, though, some segments do feel a little protracted. Trimming this down to a solid hour would make the pacing near perfect.
The final moment here is a sweet, understated gesture. It’s deeply touching. And so delicate you could miss it if you blink.