Saturday, July 6, 2019


James Karas

In Sundry Languages is an accurate description of the mode of communication in Toronto, and indeed in all of Canada, of new immigrants. It is also the title of a multilingual theatrical production reflecting and poking some fun at the difficulties of Englishless people trying to understand English speakers. It is a collective creation of Toronto Laboratory Theatre and it has six performers and lists four producers and a dramaturge among other contributors. Art Babayants is one of the producers, a performer and TLT’s Artistic Director.

The performers present a number of disparate short sketches in a number of languages that reflect the lives of immigrants who speak little or no English. Most of the dialogue is spoken in the performer’s native language and every immigrant will be able to relate to the situations presented.
In Sundry Languages is a work in progress and I think every performance is quite different from the previous one. The performance that I saw on June 29, 2019 was funny, touching, irreverent, exuberant and a unique glance at the lives of newcomers to Canada. It was done in a number of languages and I regret that I did not get all the languages that were spoken. There was Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Greek and probably several other languages that I simply did not catch.

Since the performers speak in their native tongue, you do not understand everything that is happening but you get the drift of the situation and the humour.        

Ahmed Moneka is a 6 ft. exuberant Iraqi who dared to appear in an Iraqi film that showed gay men. His return to Baghdad became, to put it politely, inadvisable. He opens the show as a would-be actor auditioning for a role as a terrorist to Babayants. He plays a taxi driver with a customer who does not know where she wants to go and several other parts. He is high-spirited and entertaining.

Riaz Mahmood is from Bangladesh and there was a large contingent of Bangladeshis in the audience who enjoyed his performance.

Lavinia Salinas is almost embarrassingly well educated (Economist, Engineer, Philosopher, teacher etc.) and talented to boot. She and Arfina May as well as the other performers answer the question of “where are you from” and in keeping with the desire of some immigrants to “belong” all of them answer Toronto. It takes several questions to pin them down to their country of origin. When one immigrant after being asked several times “where are you from” finally states that she is from Africa, her questioner reveals her knowledge with the comment “Africa– nice country.”
The flamboyant Maria Kordoni is the Geek performer and listening to her I realized how much I missed by not understanding the other languages. She demonstrates to Moneka the difference between chocolate and vanilla by pointing to his skin and to her own. Quite funny when the two finally understand each other. She sings a beautiful Greek lullaby and like most immigrants expresses her love for her country. But right after that she gives a frightful decryption of Greek bureaucracy in action or inaction. Patriotism does not trump realism. Immigrants love their fatherland but prefer to live in Canada.

The show lasts barely an hour and you want more. More stories, more time, more, more more.  Every ethnic community and indeed every immigrant has a stockpile of stories, funny, dramatic, sad, about trying to communicate with the “locals”. TLT has clearly started quarrying the huge mine called the immigrant experience and the show will be produced in other venues during the summer in different languages. After hawking the show to ethnic groups in Toronto there are plans to go on national tour.

We say bravo to them in as many languages as are spoken in Canada.

In Sundry Languages by Toronto Laboratory Theatre was performed a number of times including June 29, 2019 at Aki Studio, Native Earth Performing Arts, 585 Dundas St. East, Toronto, Ont. It will be shown at Studio N, Toronto on July 2-27. See their website for details.

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you James. This is inspiring review of In Sundry Languages. Bengali Language and I was played for the first time in the play