God of Carnage, a play written by Yasmina Reza (in French) and translated by Christopher Hampton, has been beautifully adapted to competitive Indian parents, meeting to resolve a playground altercation between their two young kids, in this production, by Bay Area’s prominent NAATAK company. It is produced by Soumya Agastya. In his debut in NAATAK, as a director, Mukund Marathe has done a splendid job, that couldn’t be far from perfect.
In this 90 minute play, two couples, Anita and Anil Srivastav visit Renuka and Mukul Desai, at the Desai home, to discuss the playground fight between their two children, in which Anita and Anil’s son’ knocked out two teeth of Renuka and Mukul’s son. At first, the couples observe the civilities, mind their manners, and amicably discuss how to deal with the situation. Acknowledging his son’s behavior to be aggressive, Anil says “our son is a maniac” and in a spirit of cooperation and to not assign blame, Renuka accedes “we try to fill the gap in the education system, take the kids on field trips and museums but there is violence in the system”.
However, soon the hidden ugliness appears. As the meeting progresses from coffee to rum, as the masks come off, the gloves too come off, not just between one couple and another but at times between men against the women. And yet these people are not criminals or psychopaths. In these people, we can see us. Some character we identify more with, and some less. In some we see our neurotic friends, and in some our foes. The complex mix of characters and their ordinary zanyness is what gives this play, depth and poignancy. Satirical dialogs make you laugh uncontrollably.
The four actors have done a marvelous job of playing their semi-neurotic roles. Divya Satia plays the role of Renuka, a writer who works part-time in a museum. She is an activist whose life is defined by causes. First, her forthright, authentic approach sucks the audience in and then her “holier than thou” tone is both hilarious and annoying. Her husband, played by Puneet, is a wholesale business trader and at first he is infinitely accommodating, but he soon emerges as cavalier (who tires of his daughter’s hamster and just releases it in the wild), easily looses his temper, is racist, and says “child rearing is wasteful”. Pooja Srivastava plays the role of Anita, a “wealth manager” attired in trendy suit, stilettos, branded purse and appears very cultured. However, soon she can’t handle the tension, begins to get ill, throws up all over on the hosts’ coffee table, and laughs like a child, when she manages to grab her husband’s cell phone and throw it in a vase filled with water. Harish Agastya is playing the role of Anil, a fascinating character of a smart but slimy corporate lawyer who is preoccupied with his pharmaceutical client dealing with problems of side effects of blood pressure medicine and is constantly getting calls from the client. He comes to the meeting with the attitude of observing niceties, get it over with, and move on to tackle the problems of his client.
As the gloves come off, Anita calls Mukund a killer (for releasing the hamster in the wild and allowing it to fall prey to other creatures). After defending himself, wiping off the soiled coffee table, cleaning the soiled books, Mukund pours himself a drink and says “I am starting to feel serene”. His wife Renuka is bewildered that only she is concerned about what trespassed between the children and says, “I am the only one not feeling serene. In fact I’ve never been so unhappy”. Meanwhile, Atul who felt from the beginning that it was much hoopla about nothing, explains that Desai’s son refused to allow his son to be in his gang and therefore, he says, “my son did good to beat the shit out of yours”. It is apparent that as parents, all four have their blind spots and they are hardly looking for someone else to tell them how to do their job of parenting.
These are four actors on top of their sport and they have done a fabulous job with good acting, of behaving badly. Yasmina Reza once said, “Theater is a sharp reflection of society” and in this play, the mirror is held close. While providing the philosophical depth, the play provides great entertainment with razor sharp humor. Opening night performance was sold out and two remaining shows this weekend are expected to be sold out. Go to www.naatak.com for more information.