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Characterizations Are Finely Carved in Burning Coal’s Production of The Great Celestial Cow

People from India are well represented in our culturally diverse North Carolina Triangle community. So, it only fitting that Burning Coal Theatre Company would give us a glimpse into one family expatriated from India. The particular family in this play, The Great Celestial Cow, by Sue Townsend, settle in Leicester, England back in the 20th Century. How have things changed since then for such families?

The starkness of scenery designer Elizabeth Newton’s set is the perfect contrast for Neena Rai’s colorful, exotic costumes. Enhancing the sense of isolation in a strange land is a back wall of horizontal fence pales, which is also used for scenery changes. Furnishings are represented by several benches brought on and off and positioned during sometimes slow scene changes.

The titular “Cow,” fashioned by Danielle James, glides smoothly on and off stage as necessary, and is, indeed, a marvelous, milking cow. It does not strain veracity to say it is a beautiful cow.

Director Sonia Desai has arrayed 10 formidable actors to play 37 roles, whuch run the gamut from an Asian Elder to a cow; and each character is clearly distinct and unique. They are choreographed on, off, and about the stage with precision, although occasionally sight-lines get crossed up. Characterizations are finely carved, internal realities are brought forward easily, and individualism is the hallmark of their work.

This play is story of Sita, played by Seema Kukreja, but also Sita brings to our attention the problems of all immigrants. The confusion of identity, shards of always exposed native culture in a new and unaccepting culture, of belonging in some respects and never belonging in others. Kukreja demonstrates losing identity to racial prejudice, overpowering societal pressures, and male domination until — in one long moment — she confronts herself and finds herself not there.

Priya Singh plays the part of Sita’s daughter Bibi, who leaves her homeland a child, and comes to womanhood in a new and unfriendly wasteland of morality and behaviors. Singh shows Bibi being truly caught in the whirlpool of what she calls a “cultural clash,” the maelstrom that shapes first-generation immigrants’ entire lives.

Sita’s son and Bibi’s brother Prem, played by Darius Shafa, must transition from a spoiled-brat child in India, to a responsible young man in England, seeking a wife. Shafa grasps both facets of his character, replete with noisy tantrums as a child and dominating, overbearing lord of the family as an adult. Shafa also portrays an old-age pensioner and Cow in Field.

Kelly Buynitzky and Joey DeSena fill 10 different roles between them. They mostly represent xenophobic attitudes, each in a different aspect of prejudice, except for Buynitzky, who has roles in which her characters defend Sita.

Pimpila Violette manages six roles excellently, the most outstanding visually are the Goddess and Zhora, a Muslim Girl. And rounding out the cast are Snehal Bhagwat, Deepak Dhar, Maneesha Lassiter, and Anu Virkar, all of whom also do fine acting work in this production.

Kudos to dialect coach Rebecca Bossen for coaching the actors so they are easily understood by the audience.

SECOND OPINION: April 10th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods:

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents THE GREAT CELESTIAL COW at 7:30 p.m. April 13, 2 p.m. April 14, 7:30 p.m. April 18-20, 2 p.m. April 21, 7:30 p.m. April 25-27, and 2 p.m. April 28 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh North Carolina 27604, near Historic Oakwood.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except $15 all tickets on Thursday, $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), and $10 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or

SHOW: and





NOTE 1: Sunday, April 14th, is Pay-What-You-Can Day.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, April 14th, performance.

NOTE 3: There will be a guest speaker following the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20th, performance.


The Great Celestial Cow (1984 comic feminist play): (Bloomsbury Publishing) and (Drama Online Library).

The Script: (Google Books).

Sue Townsend (English playwright, 1946-2014): (Encyclopædia Britannica), (British Council Literature), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Sonia Desai (director and instructor of Drama and Theater at the University of California, San Diego): (Facebook page).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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