Growing up a “good” little Indian girl can be tough—just ask Meera Simhan, playwright ofMiss India America: The Ugly Death of a California Beauty Queen 2008 (MIA).
MIA is a one-woman autobiographical piece starring Simhan, and billed as a “comically tragic coming-of-age story.”
The one hour, 15 minute show follows Simhan as she attempts to find her identity as a second-generation American, searches for balance in the face of strong cultural and societal values, and deals with her blossoming sexuality while going through the beauty pageant circuit.
On board as director is Shishir Kurup, who knows the one-person forum well. The actor/writer/composer has produced three one-man shows, including U.S. and international tours with his shows, Assimilation and Exile: Ruminations on a Reluctant Martyr. Simhan says Kurup’s expertise is a definite addition to her performance. “He’s great in helping me get the comedic timing and in learning aesthetically how to tell the story. He has done three one-person shows, so he knows the medium very well,” she says.
Simhan is an actress who’s had roles on House, Nip/Tuck, and Heroes, to name a few, and recently starred in the film Date Movie. Miss India America debuted in March 2007 with three sold-out shows, and Simhan’s second run started last month in October, and stretches into mid-November.
The title is intriguing—tell me about it. Why did you include the theme of pageants?
This play is about my life growing up as an Indian girl in San Diego and Orange County, and experiences I’ve had like the need to be with my white friends and being in beauty pageants. At that time, the beauty pageants were a real part of my life and I thought it could bring me what I wanted, exterior things. But it wasn’t until I traveled across the pond (to the U.K.) and found a voice that was really my own that I was able to find some happiness.
How did you begin the writing process, and has telling your life story been in some way cathartic?
I really didn’t begin this project as a sort of therapy. I started by writing some stories of my life in 15-minute increments (as performed). It was really inspiring for me to be able to write those stories and to share them with audiences. In performing, it has been so much fun to live with all the characters on stage and play each of the characters.
What was your opening night of this year’s run like?
It was a really fun night. We had a lovely, warm audience. When I performed this work in March 2007, it had sold out every night and we got a lot of great response. But putting it up again, you always wonder if it is going to work as it did before. But it did, it went great.
What specific responses have you gotten to your material?
People have really connected to with the play. A gentleman, who was not Indian, came up to me and said, “How did you know so much about my life?” (laughs) It reaches across race and gender—it’s not just about being an Indian girl in California.
Shishir Kurup is directing—how is it seeing your work through someone else’s eyes?
Working with Shishir has been really fulfilling and a lot of fun. He has a great third eye, and he knows the world, growing up in Africa, India, and the U.S. He has brought a lot of his own experience to the performance and it’s been so beneficial.
How challenging is it doing a one-woman theater piece?
It’s really challenging! (laughs) It takes a lot of stamina and concentration and memorization. To just be “in it,” it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my work—and also the most rewarding.
Thursday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m; and Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. ACME Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. $18 online; $20 at the door. (323) 525-0202. Tickets:http://tickets.acmecomedy.com.