PREVIEW: Jag and the American premieres this weekend at the Cultch

Plastic Theater Company’s debut performance brings together two Hemingway classics


Two Hemingway classics will be reimagined with a South Asian flare this weekend on August 5 and 6 at the Cultch in East Van when a new theater company put together by KPU students and faculty takes the stage.

The play was directed by KPU professors Fred Ribkoff and John Rowell. It was written by Ribkoff and KPU student Paul Tyndall

“The Hemingway stuff comes from our interest as literature people,” says Ribkoff. “We wanted to start with our own version of a classic piece of literature and Hemingway’s stories seemed well-suited, so we built a whole world around it.”

Jag and the American is a loose adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants and Cat in the Rain. Although the two stories are not connected as Hemingway wrote them, they are linked together in this version through the character of Jag, who replaces Jig from the original Hills like White Elephants and the lead character in Cat in the Rain. The play also adds a new backstory for the character of the American, an area left unexplored in Hemingway’s original. Also present and unique to this version of the stories are strong South Asian themes, a liberty taken by the company that makes this version stand apart from Hemingway’s originals.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the performance is the live music, which takes classic American jazz played on traditional South Asian instruments paired with contemporary dance. Billie Holiday’s jazz classic Strange Fruit features prominently with this cultural twist.  

“It’s this jazz American classic played to a South Asian instrument, and it’s kinda jazz vocals but very much Indian,” explains Ribkoff.

Playing the lead role of Jag is KPU student Sawkshi Sharma, who began performing in high school and has written two award winning plays. Jag and the American will be her first leading role.

“I’m still learning a lot about [Jag],” says Sharma. “It took me a while to get to know her. To understand her. I think I’m almost there.”

Plastic Theater Company is a brand new endeavor put together by KPU staff and students. The idea for a theater company that performs original takes on literary classics first came from Ribkoff and fellow KPU english professor Paul Tyndall. Although Plastic Theater Company is made up of KPU personnel, it is not officially associated with the university.

Jag and the American marks the company’s debut performance which, the company expects, will be the first of many. The young company is already looking to the future as a follow up titled Bastard Son, a reimagining of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is already in the works.

“I wanted to create drama that’s really unique and alive, and not just any play that somebody else would have done,” says Ribkoff.

The company will have a prime venue for their first ever performance. The Cultch, located in East Van, is a well known and historic cultural centre with a strong presence in Vancouver’s performing arts community.

“At first I kind of dreamed about putting on a show at the Cultch,” says Ribkoff. “I didn’t think they would have me.”

The Cultch is located at 1895 Venables Street. Tickets are $20 for non-students, $15 for students and seniors and, $10 for kids under twelve years old.