PERSONAL: Born in Canada. Education: University of Windsor, M.A.; Yale University, M.F.A., 1999.
ADDRESSES: Home—Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Agent—Joyce Ketay Agency, 630 9th Ave., Ste. 706, New York, NY 10036.
AWARDS, HONORS: Two du Maurier Arts awards, for one-act plays.
Rice Boy (play; produced in New York, NY, 2000), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
Snapshot (play; produced in Louisville, KY, 2002), published in The Complete Plays, edited by Tanya Palmer and Amy Wegener, Smith & Kraus (Lyme, NH), 2002.
Fighting Words (play), produced in New York, NY, 2003.
Has also written scripts for television; author of plays for Williamstown Theatre Festival, Portland, OR, Center Stage, New York Theatre Workshop, and Joseph Papp Public Theatre, among other groups.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A television adaptation of Fighting Words, for Showtime.
SIDELIGHTS: The Canadian-born son of East Indian immigrants, Sunil Kuruvilla drew on his knowledge of two cultures in his first play, Rice Boy. The story involves several plot lines, with the main stories involving Tommy, a Canadian Indian like the author, and Tina, a young woman living in India who is preparing for her arranged marriage. Tina, who is confined to a wheelchair, is Tommy's cousin, and when Tommy visits India to see his relatives, the two fall in love. Another subplot involves Tommy's efforts to discover how his mother died long ago. Along with the basic love story line, Kuruvilla paints multiple scenes that convey the many differences between the two cultures and the difficulties immigrants face in as-similating into a new country.
Some reviewers of Rice Boy welcomed the play as a colorful depiction of culture clashes, but others found it to be a freshman effort with several structural problems. Writing in Variety, for example, Markland Taylor commented that the scenes do not integrate well, and some seem to have no purpose in advancing character or plot development. "This is certainly grist for the theatrical mill," Taylor remarked of Tommy's troubles with his emotionally distant father, "but Kuruvilla has failed fully to introduce his characters to his audience or render them dramatically alive." On the other hand, New York Times critic Bruce Weber described Rice Boy as "a lovely fairy-tale-like story." Weber acknowledged that the scenes set in India work better than those set in Canada, which appeared to be more of a dramatic "contrivance. But mostly," he added, "the show succeeds on the strength of its narrative charm."
Kuruvilla's Fighting Words is set neither in Canada nor in India but rather in the Welsh town of Merthyr Tudfil in the year 1980. It is a time when the mining industry is declining and economic conditions are tough. To distract themselves from the worries of work, many of the men in the village have taken up boxing. One of them, Johnny Owen, has become a successful professional, and at the beginning of the play the townspeople have high hopes that Johnny will win the bantamweight championship in Los Angeles. Interestingly, Johnny never actually appears in the play, which focuses instead on the women in the town who are left at home after Johnny and several of his friends leave for California. The three key characters are Mrs. Davies, a midwife who helped bring Johnny into the world and who is now struggling with a failing marriage; Peg, a talented boxer herself who has abandoned the idea of pursuing a sport dominated by men; and Mia, who aspires to find work at the British Broadcasting Corporation as an announcer. The dreams of these women, the hopes of the town for Johnny's victory, and the decaying town itself serve as reflections of each other in a play that Elyse Sommer described in Curtain Up as a "thoughtful story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
New York Times, October 29, 2000, Alvin Klein, review of Rice Boy, p. CN14; November 1, 2000, Bruce Weber, review of Rice Boy, p. E1.
Variety, November 20, 2000, Markland Taylor, review of Rice Boy, p. 26.
Curtain Up, http://www.curtainup.com/ (February 14, 2003), Elyse Sommer, review of Fighting Words.
MyBindi.com, http://www.mybindi.com/ (November 27, 2005), review of Rice Boy.