God Under The Golden Arches

May 15, 2008|By Jennifer Choi | Jennifer Choi,Sun reporter

The home of the Happy Meal never fails to give Vijai Nathan a feeling of security. It even helped lead her on a lifelong quest for identity and spiritual truths.

In her one-woman autobiographical show, McGoddess: Big Macs, Karma & the American Dream, which opens Saturday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the comedian reveals how McDonald's, a Hindu mother, a born-again Christian sister, a semi-atheist father and her experience as a second-generation Indian-American made her question faith and influenced her self-perception.

"The collision of faith, assimilation and consumerism combust and create something else," said Nathan. "They created this show."

Nathan uses only a change of voice and mannerisms to imitate characters, like her mother, her two sisters, and her father, while illustrating scenes from her life.

Toward the beginning of the hour-and-15-minute program, the Montgomery County native acts out her first encounter with the Pledge of Allegiance in kindergarten. She explains how the "one nation under God" part confused her; until that point, she had only known the Hindu mindset. In the show, Nathan comments, "Then it dawned on me, maybe there is only one real god in America. And the Indian gods, like my parents, were just immigrants, with no real power outside of our apartment."

Then, there's Mickey D's. Nathan details how her family's tradition of heading to McDonald's for burgers after going to the Hindu temple made her question the boundaries and sanctity of religion. Being raised in a faith that holds the cow sacred and considers the eating of beef taboo, she found her parents' decision to embrace McDonald's hard to digest at first.

"There's this weird kind of shift, that weird crack. How does a country change you?" said Nathan. "It's a funny and ironic thing that McDonald's became like a home for this Hindu family in America."

"Whenever we traveled on these long trips to India and stopped by other countries, such as France, Egypt and China, the first question my dad would ask would be, `Can you tell me where the nearest McDonald's is?' McDonald's was this symbol of America, and it was this comfort," she added.

Nathan also re-enacts her 5-year-old self's burning desire to fit in by celebrating Jesus' birthday and getting Christmas presents like the other kids at her school. Despite being disappointed by her parents' initial refusal to buy a tree and participate in the annual ritual, she hung her mom's silk stockings from the mantel and made a birthday card for Jesus. Her dad eventually relented and bought a tree - half-price from Kmart the day after the Christmas.

"My dad did start learning to let America into our house," said Nathan. "Up until then, it was just an Indian house."

A former copy editor who left The Sun in 1997 to pursue a full-time career in stand-up, Nathan hopes the show, which has never been performed in its entirety and has a new ending, entertains and resonates deeply with her audience.

"I want to make them laugh and demystify some of the stuff that has mystified me," said Nathan. "I hope this show makes people think and makes them feel part of something bigger and part of me as well."

jennifer.choi@baltsun.com

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Dekelboum Concert Hall of the Clarice Smith center, University of Maryland, College Park. $15-$30. Call 410-405-2787 or go to claricesmithcenter.umd.edu.

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