All Classical Radio James Depreist

‘Mrs. Krishnan’s Party’ opens PRAx’s theatrical run with a bang

Audience members get involved in a semi-improvisational show that sets the tone for the Ray Theater in Oregon State University's new $75 million performing arts center.

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Mrs. Krishnan, played by Kalyani Nagarajan, dances atop a table as the Onam party reaches its peak. "Mrs. Krishnan's Party" was the inaugural performance last week in the Ray Theater in the new PRAx performing arts center in Corvallis. Photo by: Gabe Braukman
Mrs. Krishnan, played by Kalyani Nagarajan, dances atop a table as the Onam party reaches its peak. “Mrs. Krishnan’s Party” was the inaugural performance last week in the Ray Theater in the new PRAx performing arts center in Corvallis. Photo by: Gabe Braukman

I don’t know what I expected when I got in line Thursday for opening night of Mrs. Krishnan’s Party at the Ray Theater. I wanted to go for one simple reason: It was the first theatrical performance to be hosted in the PRAx — the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts — which opened earlier this month on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis. 

The Edward J. Ray Theater is a black-box space designed for intimate shows, art installations, and experimental projects. It is one of five venues in the $75 million center. The first show in a new space, especially one with as much effort put into it as the PRAx, is important. It establishes a tone, sets the stage even. The first show will play an important part in how the new theater will be perceived. 

I was certainly not expecting that, about an hour later, I’d be cooking dal at center stage alongside someone I had never met. Her name was Roxy.

“Have you ever done something like this before?” she asked. 

“Well,” I thought for a moment. “Sort of. Depends on how you think about it.” 

James, the impromptu MC of the party and one of two main characters, changed the music from a bumping electronic track to a slower love ballad. To him, Mrs. Krishnan, and the rest of the audience, we were tonight’s potential star-crossed lovers. 

“Did you expect to be doing this tonight?” I asked her. 

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She replied immediately. “Definitely not.”

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is a semi-improvisational, wholly immersive comedy drama. It takes place in the back room of Mrs. Krishnan’s grocery. James, on break from college and boarding with Mrs. Krishnan, has seemingly invited every member of the audience into the back for his blowout celebration of Onam, a Hindu harvest festival. Mrs. Krishnan is initially opposed to the idea, but as the night goes on, walls begin to break down, inside jokes form, and connections are made. The two characters, portrayed by Justin Rogers and Kalyani Nagarajan, were wonderfully acted with humor and heart. 

James, played by Justin Rogers, adds a special ingredient to the dal cooked by audience members in the semi-improvisational "Mrs. Krishnan's Party" in the Ray Theater last week. Photo by: Gabe Braukman
James, played by Justin Rogers, adds a special ingredient to the dal cooked by audience members in the semi-improvisational “Mrs. Krishnan’s Party” in the Ray Theater last week. Photo by: Gabe Braukman

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party’s four-day run at PRAx came to us from New Zealand via the Indian Ink Theatre Company. What makes this play, written by Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan, special is apparent even before entering the theater proper. After purchasing my ticket, I noticed it contained more detail than usual. Turns out, audience members are randomly assigned to one of five pools, dictating where they sit in the immersive space. 

A few members sit in the inner circle, around the dining table in the center of the space. Initially, I was deemed a Party Animal, and led to the sidelines, where I was told to stand. As more audience members were invited in, it became clear that not all of the seats would be filled, and I was instructed to sit on the sidelines. 

Not that the audience for Mrs. Krishnan’s opening night was anything to scoff at. Most seats in the Ray Theater were filled, and the energy was just right to make the improv feel electric. 

As a writer, I’m fascinated by the construction of this script. I find myself thinking back to how my experience with Onam went, how certain emotional monologues might have been planned. How would the narrative have changed if the audience was less receptive to James’ antics? If they leaned into it more? 

In an incredible stroke of luck, one audience member prompted to assist the characters was also named James. This spawned an ongoing joke for the rest of the night. Was that somehow scripted? Were the employees manning the ticket booth instructed to keep an eye out for anyone named James and give that person a special ticket? Days later, I’m still pondering this. 

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Onam, according to James, is a time for different people to come together. Race, religion, gender, class, and anything else. This was expressed through set design. The black box became an enclosed room, with boxes of groceries pushed to the sides. Audience members sat in the middle or on opposite sides. It was impossible be in a seat without a view of another person.

The intriguing experience of Mrs. Krishnan’s Party sets a strong precedent for other acts to follow. It helped that the dal I had a hand in making was good, too.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Gabe Braukman

Gabe Braukman is a fourth-year new media, journalism, and film student at Oregon State University. With a particular passion for game design, Gabe has always had an interest in analyzing all the media he has come across. In his free time, Gabe is often hiking, creating videos, or catching up on sleep.

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