This story was corrected on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. An explanation follows the story.
Lots of children have imaginary friends. Meena’s is the Hindu deity Lord Krishna.
In the young girl’s imagination, the two join forces to battle the Worry Machine, a foe of Krishna’s that is destroying the world while also representing the problems that Meena is facing in her real life.
Her father has died, and her impoverished mother, who works several jobs, is chronically ill.
“She can’t afford the medicine she needs,” said Anu Yadav, social activist, playwright and solo performer for “Meena’s Dream.”
Like her mother, Meena worries about how “to pay the rent, the electric bill, food for her daughter and medicine for herself.”
“These are impossible choices,” said Yadav, 36, who as 9-year-old Meena, taps into her young and hopeful imagination as a way to deal with poverty and her mother’s illness.
Presented by the Forum Theatre, the 80-minute play runs Jan. 8-18 at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring.
“Meena’s Dream” evolved from the thesis Yadav wrote to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in performance from the University of Maryland, College Park, in May 2013. An artist and performer for 10 years, she joined the Forum Theatre last summer as an ensemble player.
In her one-woman play, Yadav plays multiple roles,including Krishna and a pharmacist who does not give her mother the medicine she needs.
“It’s an interesting challenge [to write and perform in the same play],” she said. “The performer needs the script to be set, but as the author, you’re always wanting to change things and keep thinking about the story.”
Accompanying Yadav are three musicians who perform a live blend of South Indian classical music and American jazz. They are Anjna Swaminathan (violin) and Rajna Swaminathan (drum), both graduates of the University of Maryland, College Park, and pianist Sam McCormally.
The coming-of-age play, which takes place in the Midwest, is based on Yadav’s own experiences as an Indian-American girl. Yadav’s father died when she was 12, and her mother was left to support her and her brother, she said.
She was also perceived as different by her classmates.
“I was raised a Hindu in Iowa, which is not exactly a Hindu state,” Yadav said. “One of my school friends was concerned that I was going to go to hell. I just would try to get beyond our differences, because otherwise you wouldn’t have any friends.”
Krishna challenges young Meena to move beyond thinking like a victim and think more about taking action in the world, said director Patrick Crowley. “It’s about using her imagination for something better. ... It’s about not defeating yourself before you start,” he said.
In 2006 Yadav also enlisted Crowley to direct her one-woman play, “’Capers,” about a battle between people living in public housing community in Southeast Washington, D.C., and the government officials who want to tear it down.
It was a play about “class lines and wealth and poverty,” Yadav said.
In both plays, Yadav poses underlying political questions about why poverty exists in a country of such affluence.
“In our economic systems and social networks, we’re supposed to helping each other out,” she said.
People don’t have to accept conditions because “it’s just the way it is,” Yadav said.
By dealing with social issues through theater, music and performance, she hopes that audiences will think more about the situations around them.
“The medium ... allows people to be opened up and moved,” she said.
At the Forum Theatre, which is dedicated to presenting plays that are accessible and affordable for everyone, visitors may reserve a seat in advance for $20 or pay what they think is a fair price at the door.
Discussions are also scheduled following some performances.
“If there are people from different backgrounds all in the same room ... [there’s a] possibility for change,” Yadav said.
Yadav also hopes that individuals in the audience will realize that “they’re not alone and that many other people are dealing with [problems].”
“I’m honored if it prompts someone in the audience to share their own story,” she said.
The story incorrectly stated that Yadav attended the University of Maryland as an undergrad. She attended Bryn Mawr College.
A photo caption misspelled the name of a collaborating musician. The correct spelling is Sam McCormally.