Desipina & Company's popular series of seven 11-minute skits, aptly titled Seven.11 Convenience Theatre, has returned for its fifth season. Currently running at the Henry Street Settlement, the production once played at another historic location, the basement of the Lower East Side's Tenement Museum, where it utilized that prime location to fulfill the company's mission of challenging stereotypes related to the South Asian and Asian-Pacific American immigrant experience. Though remnants of that mission still remain in the show's current season, its insightful slice-of-life approach to storytelling has given way to a more edgy and raucous style. The skits offered in this installment will be more appealing to an audience eager to have fun than one yearning for an enriching cultural experience, which is hardly touched upon except in one skit, "Café Ceilao" by Vishakan Jeyakumar.
This skit gives us a heartfelt look into a rarely examined corner of life by showing the blossoming relationship of two Sri Lankan immigrants who meet in a small cafe housed within a 7-11. The story is well paced, touching, and intelligent, striking the right balance between comedy and poignancy and exemplifying what it means to create work that bridges the gap between cultures.
The preceding skit, "Bachelor Moon" by Thelma Virata de Castro, also has its heart in the right place, telling its tale of longing and loneliness through letters written between two former college pals (Jackson Loo and Ka-Ling Cheung) whose friendship has drifted apart. This is followed by Janet S. Kim's "How Convenient," a comical meeting between a lovelorn superwoman (Anita Sabherwal) trying to woo Rocket (Jackson Loo), a second-string superman. While both skits are solid and well plotted with strong acting, it is unclear how either relates to the stereotypes facing immigrants or convenience store employees.
The same is true of the opening skit, "The Professional." The title refers to an actress who cannot act "professional" when rehearsing her part because she believes her co-worker is sleeping with her boyfriend. The story is light and entertaining, and Ka-Ling Cheung is adorably funny as the wrongfully accused colleague, but there is no insight to be gleaned here.
In the fifth skit, "We Are History" by Jon Kern, we meet a spunky 7-11 cashier named Martha (Ka-ling Cheung), who is working in her father's store when tourists come through the door taking pictures of what they claim to be a crime scene that memorializes her own death. Kern has successfully constructed an eerie and tense story, and though it says nothing about Asian-American culture, it does make good use of its convenience store setting.
"Bollywood Blueberry Brainfreeze Bonanza" by Debargo Sanyal features Seven.11 Convenience alumnus Sanyal, a standout actor from past seasons. In this skit he is strictly the writer, although his antagonist, an egotistical Bollywood star (Andrew Guilarte), is curiously named Debargo Sanyal. After delivering a zany Slurpee promo for MTV, Sanyal is rendered unconscious when he actually tries the brain-freezing drink. Lying on the floor, he is stripped of his clothes by two half-dressed potheads who proceed to take over his MTV segment. The whole premise is so over-the-top ridiculous that you can't help but laugh and enjoy it.
Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for the final skit, "Bikram & Cheeckochio: The Musical," with lyrics by Michael Lew and Rehana Mirza and music by Samrat Chakrabarti. A parody of Pinocchio, the main character, Cheeckochio (Meetu Chilana), is cursed with a rear that grows larger whenever she makes a racist remark. To become a real girl, she must drink a 7-11 Slurpee. What starts off as an interesting premise is quickly drowned in an excessive amount of pornographic references and "ass" jokes. The narrator (Jackson Loo) even flashes a full-page spread from an adult magazine to the audience, a questionable prop to use in a skit with humor catering to an under-21 audience.
Fortunately for this production, it has a lively, dynamic cast of performers who could not be boring if they tried. There is no doubt about their ability to deliver an entertaining evening of theater, but in light of other seasons and past Desipina & Company productions, it is disheartening to see the show's original zest for social change and cultural commentary become lost in a cloud of fluff.