REVIEW: An IMM-Permanent Resident at Why Not Theatre/RISER

The Canadian immigration system fucking sucks.

There’s paperwork, and then more paperwork, and then slightly-revised-so-you-have-to-do-it-again paperwork. There’s waiting — so much waiting. Representatives from CIC (the Canadian immigration and citizenship bureau) are often rude and dismissive, starved of empathy within the game of thrones that is Canadian bureaucracy. Don’t even get me started on trying to open a Canadian bank account from abroad, or setting up your first SIN number without a Canadian address.

It’s a nightmare. I’ve known that since 2015, when I applied for my first Canadian student visa after receiving admission to the University of Ottawa for theatre. Since then, I’ve applied for two more student visas, and I’ll likely be staring down the barrel of the PR (permanent resident) gun within the next five years. I’m far from the only one hanging hopes on Canadian PR status — Canada’s currently accepting an influx of Ukrainian refugees, and has even sped up the immigration process for those fleeing the ongoing conflict.

An IMM-Permanent Resident, part of WhyNot Theatre’s RISER Toronto, beautifully details the stress and downright psychosis prompted by this system. Neha Poduval and Himanshu Sitlani, a husband-and-wife writing and performing team, have achieved the impossible: they’ve made a story about paperwork fun. 

We follow Poduval and Sitlani through the milestones of their relationship — the dates at the beach in Mumbai, the meet-the-parents anxiety, the proposal, the big move to Canada. We see their teasing, good-natured dynamic modulate as applications get rejected, as Poduval grows bored doing nothing at home while Sitlani works low-wage night jobs, as family members back home in India fall ill. Poduval and Sitlani are a team, but they’re also human — we get to bear witness to the fights caused by a goading, humiliating system.

In what’s growing to be a recurring trope in Toronto theatre, the show opens with yet another meditation sequence — Poduval’s doing yoga while her husband hovers. (One seems to be able to deduce how much of the Toronto theatre community spent its COVID-break, on yoga mats in living rooms, looking for some sort of internal peace.) From then on, we see vignettes of the couple’s life together, centred around immigration questions which they pose to us, the audience: when did you and your partner get married? What was the name of your first landlord’s wife? Who met whose parents first? What colour was the shirt your partner wore on your third date? They’re asinine, invasive questions — they’re also real. Poduval and Sitlani have peeled away the layers of the visitor-visa-to-PR-pipeline, and rather than explicitly critiquing it, they’ve instead highlighted nuggets of humour nestled into an otherwise bleak process. It works. It so works.

Director and sound designer Miquelon Rodriguez has done some excellent work here — staging a two-hander in the round is no easy feat, and the sightlines inherent in that configuration are further complicated by the BMO Incubator space’s pole-centric architecture. Through precise and thoughtful planning, this production survives the limitations of its performance space. Rodriguez’s staging is snappy and lighthearted, allowing our couple to command the space with their combined charisma. The set design by Jung-Hye Kim is simple and striking, really just a few suitcases filled with props and small costume pieces. It’s a straightforward-yet-dramaturgically-resonant playing space — Kim’s set is the ultimate sandbox for Poduval and Sitlani, and it’s a truthful representation of the precarity of not-yet residency.

There’s not really enough I can say about how much I enjoyed this performance. No, it’s not perfect — Sitlani’s unlikely to earn himself a rap career anytime soon, despite some adorkable attempts in the second half of this performance — but this story is real, and it’s heartwarming, and it’s a prime example of high-quality, low-budget performance. The final image is one I will not spoil, but it’s one which excuses any and all scrappiness which came before it — you’ll leave the theatre with a smile on your face, even if you, too, have been through the international relocation wringer.

An IMM-Permanent Resident runs at the Theatre Centre through April 10. Tickets are available here.

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Written By

Aisling is Intermission's Senior Editor and a graduate student at the University of Toronto. She is President of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association. She also likes British playwright Sarah Kane, most songs by Taylor Swift, and her cat, Fig.