A quality festival

The festival of plays presented by Toto Funds The Arts showcased three very different versions of quality English theatre


INTERESTING PLOT The Hare and The Tortoise was visually engaging

Toto Funds The Arts recently presented a festival of three plays at Ranga Shankara. TFA, Rafiki and Adishakti Laboratory presented works of Ionesco (Exit the King), Fugard (The Island) and an original play called The Hare and The Tortoise directed by Anmol Vellani, Rafiki and Veenapani Chawla respectively.

“Exit the King” by Ionesco presents no new surprise or twist. The king, Berenger (Sanjay Iyer) is a larger-than-life king who has lived 400 years. On the day of his death — when the play begins — however, he is no longer the king whose domain captured millions of people, but rules a failing kingdom. His only desire, however, is to live on forever, and he will barter his kingdom for longevity, even if it means living alone for an eternity.

What is special about the play is the way Ionesco connects death and its inevitability to the politics of the day. Berenger is very relatable to leaders of the past as well as the present. The people around the king also nicely represent society at large. Heightening the effect were some beautifully executed moments, such as the end, where Berenger’s first wife Margarite (Suman) leads him into his after life. The production, for the most part, tried to stay true to the absurd and farcical nature of the original play, setting the play in an old jazz bar with contemporary techno music. Sanjay Iyer as the King Berenger brought great energy to the stage and occupied much of the limelight. His portrayal of the narcissist king, alternating crisply between bouts of pathos, enthusiasm, fear and confidence, was captivating. Suman’s singing parts and the lighting also helped make the play memorable.

Athol Fugard’s “The Island”, performed by Sachin Gurjale and Anish Victor was possibly the highlight of the festival. Though highly verbose in its construction, the play manages to hold one’s attention easily. Like most of Athol Fugard’s plays this one too centres on the struggles of African men in the time of the Apartheid. Here two common men are trapped in a jail, for rebelling against the Apartheid. They have to perform a piece form the Greek play Antigone in front of their officers.

The play is beautifully written to show the conflicts between the heart and the head, between feeling and the reason – the same conflict in Antigone. Being personally right and politically wrong is true to the prisoners as to Antigone. Gurjale and Victor as John and Winston present this subtle yet strong similarity with much ease. The longing for freedom, the anxiety of a father, lover, friend and son, jealousy and angst are all evoked powerfully. What is also interesting is the way in which light has been used realistically almost like a character in the play. There are parts when the actors are submerged in darkness, like at the very beginning when the two prisoners work on the beach as a part of their punishment for rebelling in the prison.

It however was disheartening to see that play did not see a full house like the other two plays.What gives “The Hare and the Tortoise” dramatic shape is the question or notion of `the race’.

“The race began simultaneously, but I reached instantly,” sums up the “way” that forms the central notion of the piece. “Are there answers outside knowledge?” is one predominant question setting the pace of the play. The play works through stories of characters like Ganapati and Kartik, the hare and tortoise, Ekalavya and Arjuna and Hamlet, winners and losers in a variety of tales. Visually the play is thoroughly engaging. The play is a combination of sketches that use a variety of media, and verbal and physical texts. Music and light are used beautifully to create surreal moods and images. The contemporary jazz music played during the performance is instrumental in defining the concept of “now” as opposed to the “past” that Hamlet is preoccupied with. Acrobatic movements and contortions of artists Nimi Raphel (as Arjuna and Ekalavya), Vinay Kumar (Hamlet, The Hare), Suresh Kaliyath (Ganapathi) and the animated voice work of Arjun Shankar and Arvind Rane, coupled with the deftly-played music of Suresh Kaliyath, Pascal Sieger, Arjun Shankar and Arvind Rane stunningly enhance the ensemble work.

DEEPTHY SHEKHAR

© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

Failed craftsmanship



Date:19/04/2007 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2007/04/19/stories/2007041901630400.htm

The play Five, put together by workshop participants, disappointed at multiple levels

DISPARATE ELEMENTS There were five stories in the play involving people from different walks of life

Join the Dot’s recent performance of “Five” raises critical questions about the notion of performance, workshop productions and feedback. The play was put together by participants of previous workshops conducted by the group. The actors together created the scripts and rehearsed over four weekends to put up the Sunday afternoon performance for a full house at CFD’s Nani Arena. Also, this was the first-performance opportunity for most actors on stage.

The name of the play, “Five”, corresponds with the number of stories in the play. Is there a connecting theme between the stories? No. The stories are disparate and are of people from all walks of life. The narrator (Rahul George) introduces each of these stories, as the actors set the stage for the other scene. The five stories are somewhat like this — the first story “Love Lost” introduces the story of Andrew, a wildlife photographer and his love for Enzima, a tribal girl in a matriarchal tribal land, who chooses to stay with her tribal group called Mundugamo. Andrew leaves the tribal lands and becomes a writer. The second story, “Khel Khel Mein” tells the story of two brothers, similar to Cane and Able. The third story, documents the story of two MBA graduates trying to impact changes in their village, the fourth, beginning with a poem, tells the story of a physically challenged adult who begins to look at life differently and the fifth is the story of life situations and changes ina family of three.

All the stories are constructed by the participants themselves and there is no doubt of the singular potential of the actors, but the collection of plays failed in execution and disappointed on many fronts. The only story that stood out in content and performance was “Khel Khel Main”. Both the actors playing the modern Cane and Able were powerful in their performances. Content wise, there were many glitches, for example, the wildlife adventurer in the first piece aims at a bird with a gun and shoots it to impress the woman he loves. The loosely weaved script and dramatic depiction threw up serious questions. It was disturbing to see villagers being depicted as a group of bhang smoking individuals, or the clichéd depiction of tribal people. Rahul George’s performance as the narrator was clumsy. The performance was subsumed by a kind of humour that elicits immediate laughter from the audience, and dangerously tips actors into a trap of repeating the same till the very end of the sequence. The play, directed by Join the Dots team members Mahesh and Meenakshi, needs a lot of work, if it has to go in for repeat performances.

DEEPTHY SHEKHAR

© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

Great show

Date:30/03/2007 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/fr/2007/03/30/stories/2007033001790300.htm


Performed again nearly two decades after it’s debut, Mukhyamanthri nevertheless had a contemporary resonance


SOME FAULTS Even a bang-on execution could not camouflage the glitches

Kalagangothri, one of Bangalore’s oldest amateur Kannada theatre groups, recently performed one of their oldest and most popular plays “Mukhyamanthri” at Ravindra Kalakshetra. Translated to Kannada by T.S. Lohitashwa from the original Hindi text (written by Ranjit Kapoor) nearly two decades ago, the play has since been performed regularly since then by Kalagangothri. What’s more, veteran actor Mukhyamanthri Chandru has played the protagonist in every staging of the play.

The play begins at the end of the story, with turmoil in the political circles of Udayachal state. The chief minister Krishna Dwayapalana Kaushal (Mukhyamanthri Chandru) loses the confidence of his party, at the end of his five-year term. He is, however, retained as “Caretaker” Chief Minister for a period of 48 hours, after which voting in the next elections begins. From the start, it is clear that Sudharshan Dubey, the president of the party, plots to overthrow Kaushal and become the next chief minister. But not wanting to give up, Kaushal launches a series of well-planned schemes to hold onto power. Directed by B.V. Rajaram, the play is a study of political intrigue, highlighting the strategies employed by the chief minister to win back confidence within 18 hours.

Perhaps the greatest testament to the play’s storytelling is the ease with which audiences have been able to relate it to contemporary politics over the years.When the play was first staged, it was considered a commentary on the life of the then Chief Minister Devraj Urs. Now, the same is said regarding the present Chief Minister. This clearly speaks of the currency the play evokes even today, despite being written nearly two decades ago. Although it manages such a powerful universality, however, the play does not have many abstract political discourses and is rather fast paced in its movement, showing the most crucial day of the leader’s life.

The cast is off and running from the beginning, working a nice staccato between them, despite the play being rather verbose. Mukhyamanthri Chandru as the Chief Minister easily holds attention as he segues from one conversation to the next with impeccable comic timing .

Kalagangothri Kitti performs well as the prodigal son of the Chief Minister, as do Srinivas Meshtru as Durgabhai, M.S. Vidhya as Suhasini and Krishne Gowda as Dubey.

However, even a bang-on execution could not camouflage some noticeable glitches. Many of the other artistes in the play, although having small roles, betrayed a lack of effort in both characterisation and delivery. Also, seeing actors turn to the wings for instructions was rather disturbing. These difficulties did not much reduce the effect, however, as audience members were heard holding forth on current political intrigues much after the curtains dropped.

DEEPTHY SHEKAR

© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

The Original Last Wish Baby

Americans! This is a great topic to make play about, especially if the play resembles a Michael Moore or a Dubyaman commentary and is in the genre of black comedy. William Seebring’s “The Original Last Wish Baby” is one such play and was performed recently at the Alliance Francais de Bangalore by Dramanon, a Bangalore based theatre group. The play is directed by Sharanya Ramprasad. The relatively new play by Seebring, tells the story of the capitalistic America that encashes on anything that is worth commercializing. In this case it is a miracle in modern times, of a baby born without a heart in Ohio, and the news of a woman in another part of the world delivering a heart, without really knowing she delivered it. The characters in the play are everyday people, and the play is a parody, on American life. It shows normal, everyday people as being manipulative, even in their well meaning acts, and the media as seeking to scintillate, even the smallest of acts, if it proves to provide those fifteen minutes of fame. If seen closely, the metaphor of the ‘heartless baby’ is quite an example in itself of an industrialized, corporate world, quite reminiscent of the literature from the industrialization period. There are also some really interesting debates in the script, like towards the end, the play highlights the issue of death. Subtly the question of brain dead people, are portrayed. In a restaurant scene, a man asks for a table for him and his brain dead, yet alive wife- it also moves into absurd frenzy when an anti – ‘funaralist’ cult demands right for extended life and elect the dead Ronald Regan as their leader. The lines and scenes fly easily without much lag in the plot. This however becomes the biggest setback in itself, as was seen in the recent performance. The play by itself is rather insidious in nature, in that it easily traps the performers into certain invisible traps.

The treatment of the play itself is an illustration of this factor, meaning that here, the satire or the spoof is misunderstood in its interpretation. All characters, leaving one had a rather ‘Simpsonisque’ treatment. The locale seemed more like Springfield rather than as Ohio, or any other part of America. The drunk in the bar (Vinoj Zacharia) evoked a lot of memories of Homer Simpson. The trap was exactly here, in creating a spoof about the American life the way Americans have already done it. The medical professors were shown as nerds and one particularly reminded of Eddie Murphy in the Nutty Professor. Also, what is noticed how one easily correlates “image consultants” to lipstick applying “gay men”. Or that a sex worker, is sassy, and the Guatemalan maid is raunchy and loud. The play does not seem to be written to be performed stereotypically. There are many areas where these leanings could have been avoided, but one must admit, that such portrayal did provide laughter from a majority of the audience. One wonders if literal caricaturing of characters helped the performance, and so the question is, is this all that we can do with a black comedy about Americans? Play it the way Americans have played it?

The second trap is the accent. There were varying accents heard in the play. It seemed like the team could not take a calling on what kind of accents to use in the play or perhaps, it was probably to show a cosmopolitan culture in America, or may be not. Third, movements. All seem fine when the actors are moving to line blocking, but what does not fit in is the robot like movements at the end and beginning of each scene. If each of the actor is playing a certain American character, why not enter in the same way?

Even though the play presented many questions regarding the way it has been dramatized, some parts of the play demand a proper mention. The light (Harish Seshadri) and sound (Anirudh Kidambi) execution were smooth. The audio visuals were captivating. The original soundtrack (by Anuragh Shanker and Thanglian Khup) and the images that were compiled by Rahul Prabhu were well chosen, and portrayed a certain angst in the mind of the American playwright that the performance somehow did not show. The six actors who played up to forty roles managed their costume changes well, and in time. While five of the actors play the various characters in America, a narrator weaves a story between the scenes they create, sometimes providing assistance within a scene. Anand Ramprasad, as the narrator was good especially in his voice work, but it seemed he could have been used better in the play. The antics of other actors, Deepanjan Dey, Sitara Menon, Serena Punch, Suraj and Vinoj provided a great deal of laughs for most of the audience, but sometimes were too in the face.

The risk with performances such as this one is that usually audience laughter is taken in by the team as appreciation for good acting. Also the greater risk is that a good script still remains hidden.