Jag and The American infuses Hemingway classics with South Asian influences

Mon, Jul 18, 2016

Surrey, B.C. – Two literary classics will be reincarnated with South Asian motifs and music in an experimental stage adaptation that merges Western and South Asian cultures, and incorporates live music and contemporary dance.

Based on the short stories ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ and ‘Cat in the Rain’ by Ernest Hemingway, Jag and The American will be featured at The Cultch on Aug. 5 and 6.

“The South Asian elements of the show occurred organically, from the early change of Hemingway’s past-less character from Jig to Jag – a young South Asian woman fleeing impending persecution in India – to the idea of having Jag play the jazz classic song ‘Strange Fruit’ on the sitar,” said Fred Ribkoff, an English instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) who co-authored the play with John Rowell, a graduating English student at KPU, and fellow KPU English instructor Paul Tyndall. Ribkoff is producing Jag and The American, and he and Rowell are co-directing the play.

The project is presented by Plastic Theatre Company, a newly formed theatre collective created by Ribkoff, Rowell and Tyndall with the mandate to stage original works and produce original stage adaptations of literary classics. Plastic Theatre is based at KPU Surrey, a campus situated in the heart of one of Canada’s largest South Asian communities.

From the outset, the community has influenced the development of the play, which deviates from Hemingway’s stories in many ways. The lead character Jag will be played by Sawkshi Sharma, a local Indo-Canadian actress in her first year at KPU. Sharma described the role of Jag as an immense challenge.

"I'm a KPU student who only had experience in comedy until Jag and The American came along. My directors played a big role in getting me out of my comfort zone and helping me become Jag," said Sharma.

The play will also feature the Indo-Canadian music talents of sitar player Anju Bedi, and singer, composer, and Bollywood dance instructor Jahnavi Singh. The merging of cultures will be reinforced by the haunting contemporary dance choreography of Amber Kingsley, a former KPU student whose work will bring together three Surrey dancers: Surrey high school student Jayde Reuser, KPU student Anushruti Thakur and Elmer Flores, who will begin his university studies at KPU this fall.

Jordan Reuser, another former KPU student and a local Surrey actor, has come to embody the play’s volatile character of The American – a man unable to confront his traumatic past, and an American very different from Hemingway’s American in ‘Hills Like White Elephants’.

“What I like most about our adaptation is the fact that it is not simply an attempt at a faithful adaptation for the stage but rather a very interesting and imaginative re-visioning of the story for contemporary audiences, one that speaks not only to the themes that Hemingway addressed in his short stories but more importantly to themes that I think will resonate very strongly with audiences here in Surrey and the Lower Mainland: race and identity, discrimination and the desire for personal freedom, trauma and healing,” said Tyndall.

Ribkoff added: “Simultaneously writing new scenes for the play and developing a traumatic past and future for Hemingway’s characters led to the desire to adapt the mournful sounds of the sitar to the jazz classic ‘Strange Fruit,’ a stark musical rendering of the horrors of the lynching of African Americans, which in turn led to the desire to further embody the tortured psychological worlds of the characters in abstract, contemporary dance form.”

This production of classic literary and musical material emerges out of the creative cross-pollination bred in the context of KPU’s IDEA 1400: Explorations in Expressive Arts through Drama and Theatre, a course developed and taught by Ribkoff. This interdisciplinary expressive arts (IDEA) course is the first and only theatre course at KPU, and it has fostered the talents of the two lead actors in Jag and The American, as well as that of other members of the show’s cast and crew.

For more information about the play, visit thecultch.com/events/jag-and-the-american

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has served the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, and has opened doors to success for more than 200,000 learners. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs in business, liberal arts, design, health, science and horticulture, trades and technology, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 120 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates, citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at kpu.ca.    

A poster of the play is available on Flickr.

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Hayley Woodin
Media Specialist
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