Queen of the Remote Control
Sacramento Theatre Company’s newest offering is a modest production at its smaller Stage Two theater space. Queen of the Remote Control spans a couple of days with the Shah family in the San Fernando Valley. It’s a slice of adolescent life, evoking the awkward feelings and viewpoints of a teen in an immigrant family.
Daughter Shilpa is 17 and feels, like, totally misunderstood by her ever-present parents, both highly successful doctors from India. She’s applying to college, and her biggest struggle is trying to convince her overly protective parents to let her go to Columbia University instead of Stanford University.
Though her household is heavy with Indian influence, Shilpa takes on the petulant attitude of an overindulged teen by sulking, sighing and “whatever”-ing at every turn. But because she’s smart and funny and has a creative way of looking at life, her self-involvement is more entertaining than exasperating.
Shilpa views her world through the lens of a TV addict. She acts as her life’s own game-show commentator, armed with a remote control where she can “power on,” “power off,” “pause” and “mute” family conversations. It’s a clever device that works most of the time, though it disappears in the second act.
While TV is Shilpa’s drug, the stock market is her dad’s obsession, and shopping is her mother’s addiction. It’s a household with no major problems or challenges, just simmering resentments. It takes older brother Nitin’s visit with his new fiancee, Padma, to stir things up, including deep family secrets tied to Indian life.
In the third act, the spotlight shifts from Shilpa to her mother, Divya, who brings depth to both the play and to Shilpa’s world when she unveils her past pain. It’s a wonderfully layered portrayal of a conflicted woman by Saffron Henke, whose performances in the Sacramento Theatre Company’s productions of Arranged Marriage and The Syringa Tree were most impressive.
In the end, though Shilpa comes across as self-centered and spoiled, the play reminds us of how teens’ self-absorption can mask insecurities, and how an introduction into the wider world and deeper issues can begin the maturation into a more thoughtful adult.
Actress Roshni Shukla gives an impressive performance as young Shilpa, with a winning grace that showcases a real teen, not a precocious actress pretending to be one. Mujahid Adul-Rashid is a commanding presence as the ever-patient, though irritating, stubborn Indian father. The talented Gabriel Montoya and Katherine Pappa round out the solid cast.