Rivas & Shokri Transcend Texts, Welcome East & West
by Robert M. Gardner
Around the Bay, the Pandemic has curtailed our favorite pastime—eating out at restaurants from Persian to Mexican, Polish to Malaysian. Food to go fails to fulfill the need sit down with friends and savor so many varied cuisines.
The Pandemic has forced us to find new ways to deal with isolation and lack of physical touching. At TheatreFirst, co-writers Alejandra Maria Rivas and Kimiya Shokri have taken on a double task. They also perform the two roles: 1. a hard-pressed chef named Amaya (Rivas); and 2. an eager food critic for the Chronicle, named Tara (Shokri).
Tara, the food writer, is trying to set up an interview with Chef Amaya, but it takes months of missed messages. While persistent and polite Tara pursues the elusive, chaotic chef, their fingers fly over the tiny phone keypads and we see the results onscreen. As an older observer, I envy their expertise, while I still struggle with two-fingered texting.
Their miscues on text and email make us laugh, as they awkwardly adjust their schedules during lockdown. Rivas and Shokri use gentle phrases, full of wit and subtle meanings. Only after Tara’s editor fires her and Amaya loses her restaurant, do they finally connect, and a friendship begins to blossom.
These two super-competent Millennials refuse to give up. They transcend their Pandemic isolation. They make their phones dance to show persistence, energy, and resilience. “Magic Fruit” morphs into an upbeat celebration of a new generations’ search for survival in hard times. As older folks, we sit back and marvel at their ingenuity.
Rivas and Shokri’s domestic adventure offers us hope for a better future. The video begins with a written plea for repatriation of the Emeryville Shellmound, a burial site and village of the Ohlone people—now a shopping mall. We hear train whistles in the background that signal both the oncoming trains and the passing of an age.
“Magic Fruit” promotes indigenous rights, as well as gender consciousness. We can sit back and enjoy new ideas from women of color who are sharing their recipes with us.
Much credit goes to Erin Gilley, Visual Director, for magical, vibrant colors and camera angles. The reds, greens, and yellows vibrate in shots of their deliciously boiling beans and stews. As an aspiring foodie, I love how the Persian beans and Mexican bean dishes come with stories of their origins, and memories of family dinners.
Tara’s Middle Eastern beans sport cumin, turmeric, and exotic spices; they take a lot of time. Amaya’s pinto beans with sides of sour cream and jalapeno seduce us with their simplicity, perfectly complementing her carnitas.
Like many Millennials, they love to experiment with food from other cultures; but the Pandemic has made them nostalgic for the foods of their youth. Their joy tempts us to try these dishes for ourselves. But more important, connections between distant cultures bubbles with possibilities.
The collaboration brings a welcome message of joy and inter-connection. TheatreFirst celebrates two cultures appreciating each other—the concoction is delightful. As Julia Child would say, “Bon Appetit!”
“Magic Fruit” by Alejandra Maria Rivas and Kimiya Shokri, directed by Susannah Martin, visual design by Erin Gilley, by TheatreFirst, Berkeley. Streaming at: TheatreFirst.com
Cast: Alejandra Maria Rivas (Amaya) and Kimiya Shokri (Tara).
Banner photo: Kimiya Shokri & Alejandra Maria Rivas.