Seven.11 Convenience Theatre (2008)
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
June 7, 2008
What do a phony guru, a dancing Slurpee machine, a reality TV show, a compulsive gambler and his drug selling daughter, a cross dresser, a lovesick young man, and a musical about minors trying to buy beer have in common? Well, for starters, they can all be found right now at the Richmond Shepard Theatre as part of Seven.11 Convenience Theatre. The performance consists of seven 11-minute plays that are all set in 7-11 stores. The plays are also all written, and primarily performed, by South Asian and Asian Pacific Americans.
Each play has a separate playwright, and director Sherri Eden Barber allows each piece to have its own tone and theme, while still managing to create a cohesive, quickly paced evening of theatre. The cast of eight actors each play multiple roles and everyone has many opportunities to shine. Nick Choksi, Don Castro, and Anna Itty stand out in particular as very strong, very varied and engaging actors.
Some plays are there only to be funny. In 99 Problems by Vishakan Jeyakumar, a young man is in love with a girl and finds himself getting a lot of un-asked-for courting advice (and a few spritzes of cologne) from the 7-11 clerk and two rambunctious and ridiculous cops. Other plays are more aimed at making a social statement. In Naveen Bahar Choudhary's What Not to Sell, Tracey (Sheila Shaigany) and Vinton (Castro), two reality TV celebrities, descend unannounced upon Yasmina (Itty) and her 7-11, determined to give the store and its manager an Extreme Makeover. At first Yasmina is thrilled, yet when she realizes that what they are really doing is removing the lychee juice and replacing it with Sunny D and switching out the Bollywood films for Juno and Forest Gump, she begins to question what is going on. The cameras stop rolling and she confronts the hosts, both of whom are Asian, though they don fake voices and accents when on film in an attempt to "assimilate." Tracey explains that this year it is no longer hip to show off your nationality and that the Indian-inspired-Gap shirt that Yasmina is wearing is okay for white people to wear, but not for a South Asian.
One character was present throughout all seven plays. Though his or her name and persona changes, the South Asian or Asian Pacific 7-11 Clerk is always there. And this made me think about how often we take such people for granted.
Not every play in Seven.11 Convenience Theatre is brilliant. But this is important theatre to see. Think about it: to get to see seven new plays by unfamiliar playwrights and to learn about different cultures and to be encouraged to think about our societal values all because of one night of theatre—it's very convenient.