Prof’s debut play surreal and poetic tragic-comedy

Poster for play 6 Essential Questions

Based on her critically acclaimed memoir delving into the dark and light of her reunion with her mother, York English Professor Priscila Uppal’s debut play, 6 Essential Questions, will have its world premiere at the Factory Theatre in Toronto.

6 Essential Questions will run from March 1 to 30, with opening night March 6, at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St., Toronto. It is directed by Leah Cherniak, co-founder of Theatre Columbus, known for work with new Canadian plays. For tickets, contact the Box Office.

The play and the memoir, Projection: Encounters with my Runaway Mother (see YFile Sept. 9, 2013), from which the play is adapted, are quite different and yet they hit all the same notes.

6 Essential Questions Poster“The memoir details what happened and the play is what it felt like,” says Uppal. “The play is an adaptation of the memoir and it is still to my mind an accurate representation of it, but much more from an emotional point of view. It’s almost like Alice in Wonderland in that the character Renata is dropped into this surreal, poetic universe that is her family in Brazil.”

It is there in Brazil that Renata (Mina James) meets her mother (Elizabeth Saunders), who abandoned Renata, her brother and father two decades earlier without a word. How does the reunion go? “Mother and daughter find themselves in an emotional landfill, literally battling and dancing over the wreckage of the past,” says Uppal.

Priscila Uppal
Priscila Uppal

But Renata also meets her grandmother (Maggie Huculak) and uncle (Richard Zeppieri), two eccentric characters who she finds an affinity with and who try to help her navigate the difficult terrain that is her mother.

“It’s a tragic comedy,” says Uppal. “I’ve been able to bring out and exaggerate different parts of the memoir to comic effect, but it’s still quite an emotional journey for the audience.”

Uppal is a poet and novelist with nine collections of poetry, including Ontological Necessities ($50,000 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist) and Traumatology, and the novels The Divine Economy of Salvation and To Whom It May Concern. She was the first-ever CANFund Poet-in-Residence for the Vancouver and London Olympics. Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother was a finalist for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers Trust Prize and the Governor General’s Award.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Factory Theatre website.

For teachers who may want to bring a class, there are special education matinees that might be of interest. Contact education coordinator Franny McCabe-Bennett at