If "Shiv" doesn't at first seem to be the sharpest knife in the theatrical drawer, cut it some slack — patience and close attention are rewarded in this subtly crafted portrait of a Hindu immigrant girl's coming-of-age in her new American homeland.
Playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil forgoes linear narrative to shape apparently unrelated fragments into a poetic, often humorous and ultimately profound meditation on such far-flung topics as cultural assimilation, kite flying, colonialism, literary publishing, adultery and "Star Trek."
A fine staging by Emilie Beck for the Theatre @ Boston Court inventively connects the parallel everyday and metaphysical realms in which the play maneuvers.
"Shiv" is part of Kapil's "Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy," which riffs on fanciful modern-day incarnations of Hinduism's top trinity of deities: Brahma, Vishnu and, in this case, Shiva. This installment proves satisfying as it skillfully maps its heroine's journey of self-discovery to the mysteries of space exploration.
The foibles of norms we take for granted — and what it means to be "alien" — are examined from multiple angles as fully assimilated Shiv (Monika Jolly) debates the subtextual nuances of Star Fleet adventures with her father (Dileep Rao), a quick-witted modernist poet who fled the psychic burdens of post-colonial India for the elusive American dream of reinvented identity.
Rao's charismatic performance is funny and heartbreaking as his character's feet of clay cost him stature in his daughter's eyes. Jolly's Shiv is more enigmatic — and not without her own disruptive character traits (she's an avatar of the destroyer god, after all).
The connection isn't immediately apparent between the father-daughter exchanges and Shiv's caretaking job on the lakefront estate of a sharp-tongued professor (Leonard Kelly-Young) and his decent, amorously inclined nephew (James Wagner).
The key turns out to be the well-worn sofa bed mattress at the center of Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's striking geometric set — it serves as a kind of shabby-chic magic carpet on which Shiv travels through time and space.
When the play ultimately unmoors from the naturalistic world altogether and sets sail on a cosmic ocean, its lyricism gets a bit precious, but this is also where the hopeful lesson in the destroyer aspect manifests — that cutting cords with the past is a necessary step before moving forward.