TNamed for a Hindu god, a girl called Shiv (excellent Monika Jolly), uprooted from the Indian subcontinent, transplanted to Skokie, Illinois and buffeted by the forces of alienation in a bewildering new social setting, creates a universe of her own physically bounded by the dimensions of a thin, stained, heavily used old mattress. Fueled by the airy energy, enchanting stories and cosmic visions of her poet father called Bapu (engaging, effervescent Dileep Rao), Shiv struggles through life seeking a safe equilibrium.
Bapu dominates Shiv with his stories and energy, diverting her from the sad realities of their immigrant lives, in which her father, fueled by bourbon, keeps kindled the dream of poetic fame as the never-seen mother works long hours in a restaurant. Shiv, by Aditi Brennan Kapali, is a complex, fascinating, time bending fantasy that weaves in and out of conventional time and space, taking place in the present, the past, and in physical and imagined realities of Shiv and Bapu drawing inspiration from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
As an emotionally buttoned up adult, Shiv encounters the past when she takes on the job of caretaker for a wealthy professor (Leonard Kelly-Young) who spurned her father’s attempt to join in a conclave of modern poets. The academic’s somewhat detached nephew, Gerard (James Wagner), tries with middling success to lure Shiv out of herself.
A bare outline of plot cannot convey the power of the piece. The struggles of the characters, even the self-righteous professor, are extremely affecting. And the Boston Court production is splendidly mounted. A minimal set with witty flourishes by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz represents an apartment, a lake house estate and the cosmic ocean as well as such places as a park, the outside of a rock concert venue, the street in front of a school and more. It is joyously theatrical. The lighting and video design by Tom Ontiveros goes far in supporting the action onstage. And the sensitive direction by Emilie Beck keeps the action moving without sacrificing emotion.
Shiv runs through August 9 at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.