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.