Take one copy of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a fresh breakup, some chick power rock, an Indian wedding and a Bollywood romance. Mix those together and you have the powerful world premiere of “Muthaland” at 16th Street Theater.
Written by and starring Minita Gandhi (“Brown Girls,” “Chicago Fire”) and directed by Lookingglass Theatre Company’s artistic director Heidi Stillman, the show highlights a moment in Gandhi’s life when she returns to India, the country she emigrated from as a young child. Though she had visited India before, on this particular trip she’s inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling novel to spend time on a spiritual retreat after her brother’s wedding in Mumbai.
Throughout “Muthaland” Gandhi channels over a dozen figures in her life, including her parents, siblings and Mataji, a beautiful prophet. Each character is clearly defined and Gandhi’s storytelling style turns a bare black stage into a sensorial experience akin to reading a well-written novel.
Much of the show is utterly hilarious. The first five minutes are laugh-out-loud funny, as Gandhi recalls unblocking her ex from social media and using Groupons for girls’ nights and exercise classes. However, the story takes an unexpected serious turn when Gandhi confronts her experiences of sexual assault and sexual shame. Ultimately, Gandhi’s voice breaks through the misogynistic, anti-sexual culture that surrounds her as she finds justice and peace.
It takes a lot of guts to stand in front of an audience and perform. It takes even more moxie to take intimate and traumatic parts of your life, find healing through pain and share your story truthfully. Yet, Minita Gandhi does just that with humor, heart and a gorgeous sari. (Mary Kroeck)
16th Street Theater, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, (708)795-6704, 16thstreettheater.org, $18-$22. Through Oct. 7.