Shri Thanedar's story takes center stage — in a play
A play about Shri Thanedar based on Shri Thanedar's autobiography drew applause and approval Friday from five dozen people who had started their evening by shaking hands or taking selfies with Shri Thanedar.
It was not, in other words, a hypercritical crowd.
As for Shri Thanedar, Democratic candidate for governor, he cried.
"And my wife cried," he said. Maybe the series of vignettes came slowly, brief scenes punctuated by long set changes, but the part where he left his family in India behind and came to America? The problems at the visa office? The car wreck?
"Things came alive for us."
"The Blue Suitcase," based on the self-published book by the same name, had certain flaws. Sound, for instance, provided only by two microphones planted on stands. Lighting, provided only by a spotlight. The aforementioned pace.
But it had sincerity on its side, which was worth a lot. And a nice performance as Thanedar by Shekar Lolugu, an engineer the director found on Instagram. And if you can't root for a play about a plucky immigrant created on the cheap by a plucky playwright/director/garage door installer, why show up?
"The Blue Suitcase," staged at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the venerable Senate Theater in Detroit, will quite likely be the only play about a gubernatorial candidate to be offered within three weeks of the primary election this year.
The playwright is a 29-year-old actor, writer and working stiff named Jack King who was hoping to break even Friday and maybe have a little extra to pay the cast. Unless he manages to hook the date he's angling for in Lansing, the production's entire run will have taken place on one warm evening in a venue best known for a massive pipe organ you can hear in the Governor's Office.
King was helping to promote a play at a radio station awhile back when he met Thanedar, who was there being a candidate. King asked for a selfie and Thanedar gave him a handshake and a copy of his book.
"Then about a week later I picked it up," he said, "and I thought, 'This is really good.'"
King wrote a script and sent it to Thanedar for approval. The truth is, Thanedar said, "I never got a chance to read it."
But he appreciates the arts — he once rented the auditorium at Birmingham Seaholm High School and hired a touring troupe from India to perform for his friends — "and I really didn't have the heart to stop him."
King built the rudimentary sets in his garage. His wife, Angelica Mendez, played Thanedar's first wife, who died offstage in an automobile accident.
He put up $1,500 for the theater and another $1,500 for the music director, who played an electric organ. Thanedar eventually donated $1,200 or so to the cause; he called it an advance, but chances are he'll only be repaid in memories.
The cast rehearsed a dozen times, mostly at King's brother's barbershop. Thanedar found 10 minutes one day to stop by Kings and Queens Unisex on Gratiot, but otherwise he had no idea what to expect.
He planned to stay for both performances and expected to cry again at the later show. After the first one, he took the stage to thank "Jack King and his group of artists."
More selfies ensued, and more handshakes.
The primary is Aug. 7. It's impossible to say whether he has their votes — but they had his.