Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Loud, bold, in your face - you won't zone out in this show
Enlighten Me A Little is Reeni Ekanayake's debut solo stand up comedy show running at Pilgrim as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival from 20 - 28 September 2018. It's a show about being Sri Lankan, being aware of one's "market rate" and how to maintain it, and it is also about being Buddhist, learning to let go of worldly concerns (... such as how to maintain your market rate). It's an honest show about life's many contradictory experiences, and Ekanayake attempts to tie them together in a way that makes sense to her audience, whether or not they've lived these experiences themselves.
Pilgrim is an intimate performance venue at Federation Wharf by the Yarra river. (If you haven't been there before, it might be a good idea to arrive well before the start of the show, as it can be confusing to find the venue for the first time). The performance space itself is a lovely, small room with a minimalistic stage set up, which leads to expectations for a quiet and somewhat contained performance. This is a deception: you have been warned. Ekanayake enters the space in the character of an aggressive real estate agent, sizing up her audience, making notes of their individual buying capacities. She proceeds to introduce them to the "property" they're inspecting, drawing confronting parallels between how property and women's bodies are viewed. From the very beginning Ekanayake is loud, she's bold, and she's in your face - in your personal space. She's been evaluated for her "market rate" all her life, and she isn't content to just tell you how it feels, she wants you to feel it for yourself. Thankfully, she's also very funny, so the experience makes you look forward to the rest of the show.
The rest of the show does not disappoint. Ekanayake takes you on a very entertaining journey through her history with dating, cosmetic procedures, meditation, music, and the Sri Lankan caste system. She skilfully switches it up between storytelling, sketches (sometimes with audience participation), song and dance, and the use of minimalistic (but effective) props. She even manages to fit in a couple of costume changes: a task not every performer would be game to attempt on a stage. But Ekanayake constantly makes her performance bigger than the space that is hosting it - a fact which is simultaneously impressive and confronting. (If you like the thrill of a bold and powerful performance in your personal space, sit in the front row like I did - it's great. But if you're less game, maybe choose a seat in the back rows).
Ekanayake is supremely confident in her body and uses her voice and physicality to emphasise her jokes and draw out laughs throughout the show. Because of how personal her stories are, different parts of the show will resonate with different people depending on what strikes a chord with whom. The night I attended, some audience members doubled over laughing when she talked about "white people wanting to teach her how to meditate", others had that reaction when she did an impression of Olivia Newton-John. As for me, I nearly died laughing when she shared her mother's reaction to her break up with a serious boyfriend - that could easily have been my mother.
This show, while being funny and with universal appeal, is a strong cultural commentary on certain aspects of Sri Lankan culture, and often refers back to Buddhist teaching. Ekanayake's cultural observations are insightful and work best when she draws from the substance of traditions and practices that are prevalent in the cultures she speaks of. I wasn't quite as keen on the moments where the show simply played on superficial brown people/white people stereotypes. But thankfully the majority of the show went a bit deeper than that, and on the whole was a very entertaining experience.