Implicit Racism and Familial Dynamics: DramaLabs Explores Complex, Sentimental Themes

The stage lighting reddened as Jason, played by Iwo Wicinski ’24, argued with his South Asian girlfriend, Mahika, played by Mira Patodia ’26, over racist comments he had made. “Speak Up,” directed and written by Kashvi Ramani ’24, strove to bare and explore such issues of internalized racism through the tense dynamic between Jason and Mahika. Audience member Zadie Robinson ’26 talked about what she thought of Ramani’s play.

“I thought the first act where my friend, Kashvi…directed it, it was really good. I remember afterwards my friend next to me, he was telling me how he wanted it to be a Netflix show because it was genuinely one of the best things I’ve ever watched,” said Robinson.

Last Friday’s DramaLabs consisted of three short plays and a stand-up comedy act by Owen Cheng ’23. Sebastian Lemberger ’25 directed a skit called “Family Ties,” which revolved around a mother and daughter relationship. After her cousin tragically passes away, the daughter refuses to attend his funeral, giving rise to complex explorations of familial tensions. Lemberger commented on the more sentimental nature of this DramaLabs in particular.

“I think one of the more unique things about this act within last week’s DramaLabs was that it was not really a comedy to the extent that a lot of the other stuff that was performed was. It was slightly a more introspective play, I think,” said Lemberger.

Ramani recruited Wicinski to play the male lead of her play, while Patodia responded to an open invite for South Asian women to play the female lead, and ultimately got the part. She oversaw four to five rehearsals with Wicinski and Patodia over a two-week period, practicing blocking, staging, and lighting in addition to memorizing lines.

“A memorable part was just sitting down with Iwo and Mira and discussing with them their characters and their interpretations of their characters. And it was really, really inspiring to see that they had grasped my script so well. And they were so interested in learning more about the South Asian Struggle, which we were talking to Iwo about in our own descriptions of being both Indian,” said Ramani.

Despite being initially nervous and new to acting, Patodia felt that Ramani, along with others involved in DramaLabs, were really helpful in streamlining the process for her. She reflected on rehearsing in the Theater Classroom, experimenting with different lighting effects, sound effects, and prop work. Overall, Patodia felt that the process ran really smoothly.

“At the beginning, I was really scared. I’m sure it was also because I was acting with someone who was an actor. So it was nerve wracking for me because he knows what he’s doing, but I don’t. But after some time, I became more comfortable. It also helped because I was friends with Kashvi, so she made it more comfortable for me in the space. It became really fun toward the end because I got to know the both of them better,” said Patodia.

The Producers, directors, and performers faced various challenges throughout the process. For Lemberger, one of his actors quit, so he needed to recast. For Ramani, she wasn’t certain on the performance date, requiring flexibility on the directors’ and actors’ parts.

“We weren’t sure which day we were gonna do it on. So we had to be prepared for anything. So we could have had to do it by the end of that week or we could have done it two weeks after that. We ended up doing something in the middle, which was preferable, but it was very up in the air there,” said Ramani.

Overall, though, Ramani and Lemberger felt their plays and the overall DramaLabs ran smoothly and successfully. Lemberger also commented on Cheng’s stand-up routine, as he was a “mainstay” in the DramaLabs program and this was his last performance as a Senior. Ramani reflected on the audience’s reception of her play.

“My actors did amazing and they didn’t forget any of their lines and blocking went pretty well. And the audience reaction was really great because they gasped every single time he said anything remotely racist. It was really good. I feel like it really was hard hitting for the audience members especially, and for the actors [to] see everything they did come to fruition,” said Ramani.