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Blue Mango Theatre serves culturally diverse 'Moonshine & SkyToffee'

| Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009

When Sandhya Krishnan got laid off from her job at Deloitte & Touche, moping was not an option. "I decided, rather than be sad, why not start a theater company?" Krishnan says.

She founded and became executive director of Blue Mango Theatre, which makes its debut Friday at the New Hazlett Theater in the North Side with "Moonshine and SkyToffee."

Indian playwright Rajiv Krishnan (no relation to Sandhya Krishnan) created "Moonshine and SkyToffee" by interweaving two quirky, humorous love stories -- "The Love Letter" and "The Card-sharper's Daughter" -- that the Indian novelist and short story writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer wrote in the 1940s.

Both stories are set in the southern state of Kerala in India.

The first story is about a hard-working young Hindu man in love with the daughter of his landlord, who is a Christian. The second explores the courtship of Zainaba, a tea shop owner, by the lovable pickpocket, Mandan Muthapa. Watching it all is Ottakannan Pokker, Zainaba's one-eyed, card-shark father.

"They are love stories. But when combined, the chemistry of the two makes a light-hearted comedy," says Krishnan, who lives in Squirrel Hill.

The play will be performed in English and without intermission by a cast of five actors who have been deliberately drawn from three different ethnic groups -- two Caucasians, one African-American and two Indians.

That multicultural initiative is part of Blue Mango's mission to make theater in Pittsburgh accessible and available to a wide and diverse group of talents.

"We are trying to tell people we welcome you to act in our kind of play. The best way to do that is to have an Indian play," she says.

Blue Mango's mission was born from Krishnan's personal experiences auditioning for roles at area theater companies.

"I got to know, even if Indian-looking actors were good, there were no roles written for them," she says. "There was no space for the diverse people of the city to be represented on stage."

She hopes her company will involve lots of younger people -- both as attendees and as participants. Her production team and backstage crew was recruited from college students and young MBA holders like herself who had gained theater experience in other parts of the world.

"We are hoping to make theater an entertaining option like a concert," she says.

That's part of the reason she called the company Blue Mango.

"I wanted a name that sounded cool and youthful and emphasized the theme of diversity," she says. "But a mango by any other color would still taste the same."

"Moonshine and SkyToffee" will be simply staged.

"Everything is symbolic," says Krishnan. "A stepladder becomes a cupboard, a mat a bed. There's not much emphasis on sets."

Costumes, however will be more specific.

"The cast will be wearing costume from Kerala in the 1940s," she says. "They look very Indian and similar to what's worn there now."

Krishnan sees this initial production as a pilot to gauge audience interest and reaction.

At the same time, she's also making plans for future workshops and plays.

"We plan another production for April," she says.

Additional Information:

'Moonshine & SkyToffee'

Produced by: Blue Mango Theatre

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $15 in advance; $18 at the door; $10 for students and senior citizens in advance; $12 for students and senior citizens at the door

Where: New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Square East, North Side

Details: 217-418-0486

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