One of New Zealand’s oldest South Asian theatre companies transplanted a play from the US to New Zealand and found themselves putting on a world premiere.
Dhaba on Devon Avenue (DODA) was meant to have its world premiere at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater back in 2020 but Covid stopped it short. However, Chicago’s loss was New Zealand’s gain. DODA is now premiering at Auckland’s TAPAC on May 26 – mostly by coincidence.
“We're just lucky,” director Sananda Chatterjee says, “Once we got a sniff of that script, it was so interesting and we picked it up. But we had no idea at that point that they weren't going to be able to perform it at all.”
Instead, delays overseas meant it rolled around to Prayas Theatre Company to put on the production before anyone else.
Written by American Madhuri Shekar – who is currently on the scriptwriting team for Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act 3 - the story follows Pooja, an older Indian woman who is fighting against the closure of her 30-year-old Sindhi restaurant.
Pooja is clinging to the authentic menu she’s served for decades while facing foreclosure and dwindling customers. All the while, she’s talking and arguing with her daughters over how to deal with it all.
This point of family tension reflects one of the main themes of DODA: the generational changes in a migrant family. In the rehearsal room in New Zealand, thousands of kilometres from where the play is originally set, the cast found they related to the conversations the characters in the play were having.
“It's this typical conversation that you have with your parents about ‘you just need to let me do my thing. You brought me to a new country to have a better life, so don't restrict the rules of the better life to back home’,” Chatterjee says.
DODA touches on this and how success looks different to different generations, especially when a family moves across cultures.
Throughout rehearsals, Chatterjee and the cast have been talking about their own experiences.
“We've all had these conversations. We all have stories, and we can all relate to the conversations that these characters are having.”
The play is set in Chicago but with its premiere shifting to New Zealand, Prayas got permission from writer Shekar to tweak details slightly: changing references here and there, as well as swapping Pooja’s character out from the patriarch of the family to a matriarch.
DODA was written with a dad as the central character running a Sindhi restaurant, but when it came to casting in New Zealand, finding the right actor proved difficult.
Instead, Chatterjee looked for a South Asian female lead – something she was secretly pleased about.
“[The play] was originally two men and three women and the players become four women and one man,” she says, “That dynamic has worked really well for me. Prayas has a lot more senior women performers and South Asian women performers don't really get that much opportunity. So, it was cool to have that serendipitously open up.”
Dhaba on Devon Avenue opens at TAPAC on May 26 and runs until June 5. You can find more details and tickets through this link here.
- Asia Media Centre