Nerve: Breaking Boundaries in Theatre
Lovers of new theatre are in for a treat this week for an advance look at tomorrow’s hit plays at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s 20th Anniversary New Works Festival. Celebrating the company’s legacy of fostering new plays and musicals, this unique festival offers audiences an opportunity to experience new plays and musicals in their early stages of development. With multiple performances of each work, playwrights and composers are able to revise and refine their shows during the festival, allowing audiences to view the exciting evolution of brand-new pieces of theatre.
A play that caught my attention was Nerve, by fellow Gujarati and foodie Minita Gandhi. Her mother, Jyotsna Gandhi’s recipes were the inspiration for the play that explores the legacy and love language of food. The play tells the story of Jyoti, a recent widow with ailing health, who finds the future of her well-being in her daughters’ hands. A multigenerational and multicultural journey that explores the legacy of food, Nerve, a dark comedy is meant to be an aromatic and visceral experience, with the recipes being shared and cooked on stage, as well as served to the audience.
A mother’s culinary legacy
“My mother has been slowly and painfully losing the ability to use her hands. I had a huge realization as I began to bear witness to this. Our hands, what we do with them, from the simple act of offering comfort to cooking for our families- those movements carry so much story, I wanted to explore a story that could serve as a meditation on that,” says Gandhi.
Her mother’s sickness made Gandhi realize that preserving her mother’s culinary legacy demanded her dedication, “failure to do so would mean losing an integral part of our family tradition and, by extension, a piece of my mother.” This was further accentuated when Gandhi was pregnant and had a profound encounter with the Ayurvedic principle that emphasizes food as medicine. “Beyond the allure of restaurant dishes, my cravings were solely fixated on my mother’s culinary creations, crafted in her unique way,” she adds.
Stories woven into recipes
Having her mother at her side, feeding her comfort foods—khichdi, kadhi, the quintessential Gujarati thali, and sweet daal, embodied nourishment, history, and a profound legacy – a manifestation of her mother’s love. In the process of learning and cooking alongside her mother, Gandhi uncovered the myriad stories woven into Jyotsna’s recipes. From her Jain upbringing, she abstained from root vegetables to a change in their diet when they moved to the U.S., where one had to adjust. Gandhi recalls how after every trip home, they would carry suitcases filled with spices and essentials, back to the U.S., so they could enjoy the tastes of home from afar.
Food as love
While a work of fiction, the play delves into the central theme of “food as love” and examines the choices made by first, second, and third-generation Indian Americans regarding their cultural inheritance. The narrative weaves a tapestry of tradition, elder care, and our relationship with food through the lens of a recently widowed Gujarati Jain mother and her three daughters. It’s a profound exploration of the sacrifices made in pursuit of the American dream and the potential reclamation of lost traditions.
“I aimed to create complex roles for South Asian women aged 40 and above. My mom is on contract, as my consultant and having her voice, her recipes, and her presence in the room continues to serve as a point of inspiration and guidance. In a culture often driven by the model minority archetype, I endeavored to spotlight a family grappling with imperfections,” says Gandhi.
The magnificence of aging women
We often lament that South Asians are not accurately or adequately represented in mainstream media. Nerve aims to craft authentic narratives that showcase the strength and magnificence of aging women.
“This new works festival is giving us a chance to be bold and explore the text, and to play with the relationship of food with the text. I have never served up a play that has active cooking on stage before and the goal is when we move into a production, this play will have actors really cooking on stage, literally and figuratively,” adds Gandhi.
When this play is produced, the goal is for the audience to taste the food, as well. If you go for the August 19th showing, you will get to taste her mother’s ginger chai severed with samosas.
The stellar cast are veterans of the Bay Area theater and screen scene. Ranjita Chakravarty (Netflix’s Never Have I Ever), Tiffany Yvonne Cox (Hulu’s Reasonable Doubt), Rachna Khatau (ABC’s Baby Daddy), Miriam A. Laube (Broadway’s Bombay Dreams), and Uma Paranjpe (Broadway’s Life of Pi).
By Minita Gandhi
Directed by Kirsten Brandt
8/13 @ 3pm • 8/19 @ 3pm
For the full festival lineup, click here.
The festival runs through August 20, 2023
Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto.
Festival passes ($60 general) and single event tickets ($20) can be purchased online at: