Archive for category Play Reviews

Native Gardens – Play Review


Playwright Karen Zacaria’s “Native Gardens”, currently playing at The Center for Performing Arts in Mountain View, explores ageism, racism, sexism, classism, republicanism, democratism and more  in the context of an unintended property line conflict among neighbors.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksTania (Marlene Martinez) and Pablo Del Valle (Michael Evans Lopez) are young, up and coming Latino couple, each with their own past that colors their perceptions. Pablo is from Chile and grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth. He is angling for a partnership at a law firm and is slightly paranoid of how he will be accepted, given his Latino background. Tania is very pregnant, is nearing the completion of her Ph.D. in anthropology, and grew up in much poorer circumstances in New Mexico. She is idealistic, new agee, strongly pro-environment, and into native plants. Tania and Pablo own a property adjoining Virginia (Amy Resnick) and Frank Butley (Jackson Davis). Virginia and Frank are older couple with a prize-worthy English garden and are Republicans.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksWell intentioned neighbors’ attempts for friendship soon melt away as an unintended property dispute arises. Given that garden is important to both couples, albeit in different ways, “Native Gardens” is a comedy rooted in tulipanin (common allergen toxic to some animals, found in tulips) laced barbs, and tannic acid (residing in acorns and leaves of oak trees that helps guard it from fungi and insects) colored retorts.

Zacarias is a compassionate writer and she treats both couples with a measure of empathy, compassion and understanding. Yet, what is fascinating is how gradually and in a measured way and yet how quickly and not so subtly, the conflict escalates and breaks down relations, as both couples dig deep into their personal treasure trove of isms and even political affiliations, to assume bad intentions of others and find new insults.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksDirector Amy Gonzalez has done a fabulous job, with the script in showing how easy it is, despite all the wisdom and maturity, for people to get polarized, to buy into the divisive rhetoric in the air that may reflect their own latent biases, prejudices and distrust of one another. Special kudos for incredible staging to Sara Sparks and Amy Smith Goodman.

In the current climate of deepening rifts and many symbols of “us versus them” (border wall, trade barrier, cages, guns, armed guards in schools, red wave, blue wave and more), the play uses yet another powerful symbol of a fence.  If this play is to serve as a microcosm of what is going on in the country, then such physical articulations not only define our distinctions but when combined with divisive rhetoric and incitement of fear, they serve as call to action, to fiercely protect our zones, perimeters, boundaries and borders. However in the play, as if bringing a perfect measure of hope, it highlights how sometimes humanity springs in the most unlikeliest of circumstances, during those times when we need one another. And in those times when we seek help and when we offer help, in times of unity, our gardens bloom.
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This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season. For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

 

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Mahabharat – NAATAK Play Review


Image may contain: 1 person, dancingThe story of Mahabharat has been repeated among Indians, over and over in various ways, even via TV series. Why would you bring it on stage, and why say it again, and how could you say it better or do greater justice to one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, also known as the longest epic poem ever written? Therein lies the brilliance of Sujit Saraf who adapted it for the stage for NAATAK and is currently playing at Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing and weddingThe Mahabharat, believed to be written by Vyasa, is a narrative of the Kurukshetra war, a deadly war among cousins, sparked by greed and fueled by lies, cheating, deceit, turncoats, and perhaps misplaced assumptions of right and wrong, good and evil. With Mahabharat being recited several times in history, with details and stories added or deleted and with the epic employing “story within a story structure” known as framelets, it is a mind-bogglingly complex story to tell, described by Hermann Oldenberg as a “horrible chaos”.

It is to great credit that NAATAK’s team, with director Saraf, producer Soumya Agastya, music director Nachiketa Yakkundi, choreographers, sets team and many volunteers and a huge cast of performers managed to bring this story on stage; not just to tell but in the form of the musical, with awesome dances and music, focusing on key dialogues and stories and with recreating the most impactful stories befitting the grandeur of the time, without overdoing any of it.

Image may contain: 5 people, people standingSticking to the core of the epic, NAATAK’s Mahabharat traces the story of Kaurava and Pandava from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation and through their earliest ancestors known to us (Yayati, Dushyant, Shakuntala, Ganga, Shantanu, Nishad, Chitraghandha, Veechitravirya,  Dhritrashtra, Pandu, Kunti, Gandhari and more) and brings us to the center of their conflict. When Shantanu was seeking to marry Satyavati (whose father Nishad had misgivings since her sons would not inherit the throne) Shantanu’s first born son, Bhishma made a strongest vow known to humankind, to never have children, never marry and never inherit the throne. But his step mother Satyvati’s two sons Chitrangadha and Vichitravirya died leaving behind no issues. Satyvati then asked her illegitimate son Vyasa to father children with Vichitravirya’s widows, in order to get heirs for the throne. Thus were born blind, Dhritrashtra and weak and sickly, Pandu. Vyasa also fathered a son with a maid servant, Vidur. Dhritrashtra with his wife Gandhari, fathered 100 sons who came to be known as Kauravas. Pandu, with Kunti and Madri fathered 5 sons, who came to be known as Pandavas.  

In the greed and evil plots of the Kauravas, under the helm of the eldest brothers Duryodhan and Dushasan, and in their maternal uncle Shakuni’s evil machinations and in the gambling addiction of the righteous and truthful but incurable gambling addict, elder Pandava brother, Yudhishthir lies the seeds of the epic war in Bharat, which ended in Kali Yug.Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standingImage may contain: 1 person, standing and childNAATAK’s Mahabharat takes us through all the main plots and sub plots, major twists and turns (Guru Dron asking Eklavya to cut his thumb and give it as Guru Dakshina so that no one can contest his disciple Arjun; Kaurava’s plot to kill the cousins after hosting them in a palace of flammable materials and how they managed to survive; Draupadi’s wedding to the most able warrior; Kunti asking all brothers to share whatever they had brought and thus Draupadi came to be shared between the 5 Pandava brothers; Pandava’s loss of everything in gambling and Yudhishsthir putting his wife on the line and losing her; Kaurava’s attempt to disrobe and humiliate her and Krishna coming to her rescue; Pandava’s 13 years of vanvas; Kaurava’s adamant refusal to give them the smallest piece of land; and the war that was as inevitable as it was extensive and drew in all the surrounding kingdoms. Arjuna had a moment of remorse and refuses to fight his brothers on the other side and received updesh in the form of Geeta, from his charioteer, Krishna. The bloodiest war of the time soon descended into dishonourable tactics on both sides (where Arjuna’s young son is sent into a Chakravyuh though he only knew his way in and not out; Bhisma is mortally wounded when Pandavas use his principle to not pick up weapons against a woman and send in Shikhandi who is half woman, half man — all this and more). Image may contain: 1 personBhima the strongest of the five Pandavas killed all 100 Kaurava brothers that evoked heart-rending cries of soulful mourning, followed by a curse, from Gandhari, the grief-stricken mother.

Mahabharat is overwhelmingly a story of men with women existing on the periphery; (consider the fact that among 100 Kaurava sons, there is no mention of a daughter) in tracing the entire ancestry, daughters are rarely mentioned. But it is women who experience and display raw emotions other than anger. It is Gandhari whose soulful tears at the loss of all her sons pierce one’s heart; it is Draupadi who suffers the humiliation in open court of men when her husband loses her in gambling; and it is Kunti who dutifully gives up her life in the palace to follow her husband to live in the forest.

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In Mahabharat, NAATAK takes the audience through this spellbinding journey.  With excellent staging, sound and awesome performance, it transports the audience to another era and retains the spell to the very end. In fact, the dialog at the end is most amazingly brilliant, distilling the essence of this epic event, a dark time brought by flawed humans and a tale of cruelty and sadness, thwarted ambition and greed, amidst small acts of courage and kindness. I loved the fact that this gripping tale is not told yet again from a traditional, routine, religious perspective but from the perspective of a historical event, values of the time, moral subtlety and ambiguity and human flaws. This incredible performance by NAATAK above all speaks to incredible and undisputed brilliance of Sujit Saraf.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and dancingI haven’t seen but I have heard that during the airing of the TV series, some people were inspired to perform pujas and garland the TV before airing of each episode. NAATAK’s performance will likely inspire the audience to find entertainment and perhaps engage in quiet reflection about values, principles, and moral code of ethics.  This is a not-to-miss show of this theater season in the bay area. It retains the original flavor with Hindi dialogues but English supertitles are projected on the screen above. Tickets can be obtained at www.naatak.org .
PS: Thank you Kyle for Pictures by kyleadlerphotography

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Hold These Truths – Play Review


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. These awe-inspiring words are among the first words in the Declaration of Independence, in the United States Constitution.  From time to time, people violate established laws that are grounded in these basic truths we accepted to hold and abide by. But it is WHEN the United States Government looks at its own people and sees the enemy, precisely when it is hardest to defend our bedrock principles and democratic values, it is then that the most courageous among us stand up and lead the way.

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In “Hold These Truths,” playwright Jeanne Sakata brings to the forefront, the story of Gordon Hirabayashi (Joel de la Fuente), a young Japanese-American man, who stood up as a one man army to defend the bedrock principles of American democracy, against our very own government’s onslaught on them, after the Pearl Harbor attack, during World War II. When he noticed that amidst unfounded fear and hate towards the Japanese, instead of defending American citizens under attack, the Government issued an executive order demanding mass incarceration of all people of Japanese heritage on the West Coast, he challenged the ruling.

Image result for hold these truths, theatreworksAfter taking an impromptu decision to violate the curfew, Hirabayashi turned himself in and declared his intention to violate the exclusion order, challenging the very constitutionality of government actions. His challenge to the system caused many headaches for the system and was followed with years of court battles and even some soul searching moments on behalf of the vehement defenders of the constitution like ACLU and other organizations. Directed by Lisa Rothe, this is a masterpiece that has come on stage at theatreworks, at this juncture in history, when we most need these lessons in courage. Joel de la Fuente is absolutely awesome, in this solo performance.  Tickets are available at www.theatreworks.org for this not-to-miss performance of this theater season.

Some additional information: In 2012, Hirabayashi was awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom by Mr. Obama.  Other citizens had also defied the order. Among them was Fred Korematsu who had also challenged the executive order for eviction and internment. Justice John Roberts finally gave unequivocal opinion in 2018, repudiating former government action against him and noted in his opinion, “Korematsu was gravely wronged”. The irony is that the same Supreme Court upheld Trump’s travel ban on mostly Muslim-majority countries. Hirabayashi ruling regarding his disobedience of the curfew also continues to serve as legal precedent.  This performance couldn’t be better timed. Many Americans are concerned that currently America is not living up to its ideals and in separating parents seeking asylum from their children, and in instituting travel ban of mostly Muslim countries, American government is violating the spirit of some of the most potent and consequential words noted in the constitution, indeed in American history, about self evident truths and unalienable rights. If history is any guide to the future, it will take immense courage to show up, speak up, and resist, so that we may continue to hold close and be guided by these truths.
Tickets for this not-to-miss performance are available at www.theatreworks.org .

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Rashomon – Play Review (Naatak.org show)


Image result for naatak, rashomonDirector Savitha Samu exceeded all expectations in direction of psychological thriller Rashomon in NAATAK.org production. The story centers around human tendency to embellish the transpired events where facts take on different hues in each narrator’s mind.

Originally, Rashomon was written as a short story by Akutagawa. In 1950, it came out as a film, directed by renowned Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. It won several awards and is considered among the greatest films ever made and brought Japanese cinema on world stage. Incredibly challenging to produce live on stage, Naatak’s superb cast did a fabulous job. The story centers around various characters narrating harrowing incident that involves a murder.  Set in Mumbai, everyone involved, directly or indirectly, offers an account of the events that transpired on that fateful stormy day.

Image result for naatak, rashomonEach and every single member of the cast including Rohit Dube, Kukund Marathe, Natraj Kumar, Vineet Mishra, Maunic Dharia, Ranjita Chakravary, and those playing as shadows and dhol players did complete justice to their challenging roles. But truly memorable were Ekta Brahmkshatri and Rajiv Nema in some of the most challenging roles I have ever seen on Naatak’s stage.

This story speaks to  amazing capabilities of human mind that four different people offer detailed descriptive report of what transpired. Each narrator embellishes the report from their perspective, providing subjective, alternative, self-serving and often contradictory versions of the same incident, that renders their version unique and unlike any other. Five contrasting accounts of the same murder by five different individuals is enough to shake up from the core, anyone’s faith in pure and unadulterated truth with all its rawness and holds deep and profound implications for credibility of eyewitness accounts, role of perceptions and biases, and basic human right of justice for all. (see my book review on “American Marriage http://bit.ly/2Kzewz1 ).  Tickets for Naatak shows are available at www.naatak.org and don’t forget to get a season pass to enjoy the shows at discounted price.

 

 

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The Siegel – Play Review: May, 2018


Image result for siegel, citylightsThe Siegel by Michael Mitnick, directed by Mark Anderson Phillips is a beautiful romantic comedy, with the title poking fun at the Chechov classic, “The Seagull”.  Ehan Siegal (Ben Euphrat) is in love with Alice (Ella Dershowitz) and though Alice and Ethan have broken up about two years ago, as the play opens, Ethan is with Alice’s parents, Ron (Erik Gandolfi) and Deborah (Luisa Sermol) asking them for Alice’s hand in marriage.

Ethan is on a mission to convince everyone who would be willing to get a dinner or down a few drinks that he deserves a second chance. Ethan tries to convince Alice’s mystified parents. “The point is, I will love you daughter as if she were my daughter”, says the aspiring groom. When Ron and Deborah remain unconvinced, Ethan manages to persuade Ron to have a beer with him where he reads the poem he has written for Alice.

Image result for siegel, citylightsAlice herself is not only determinedly against the entire idea but to complicate matters, she has recently moved in with her boyfriend, Nelson (David Morales). Ethan forces himself on their dinner date and Nelson is somewhat intrigued and amused by Alice’s ex boyfriend. But when Ethan manages to convince Alice to go on a dinner date, Nelson is no longer amused and he too shows up at her parents’ home to ask her hand in marriage. This prompts Alice’s bemused father to inquire, “well how many goats do you offer”?

Image result for citylights, siegelIf the goal is for Alice to be with the person who is a better match for her, then an equally pertinent question lingers in the air, “Do you think there is only one person out there for us”? For Alice, is that person Ethan or Nelson? This isn’t a play with a remarkable story. But it is a play with the most memorable, best cast of characters and each of them do do complete justice to their roles. Each one is just perfect or with just the right mix of quirkyness. “A cast is kind of a living, breathing organism”, says director Phillips and the result is this superbly funny play that leaves you in splits of laughter.

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It would be amiss to not notice an underlying sadness, a gentle touch of melancholy underneath all the drama.  Without dwelling on it too much, it leaves the audience with a whole host of nagging questions. “Do we settle sometimes in life, because it is the right thing to do in that moment or because it takes too much courage to change course, and how long a shadow will that cast on one’s future happiness?” A memorable gem is a quote from Alice’s mother to Alice, “the person who you enjoy being with, is the person you should be with”.  This is not-to-miss play of this theater season and is running at Citylights Theater in San Jose. For tickets, go to www.cltc.org .

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Unicorns by NAATAK – Play Review


“How can we make user experience like flushing a toilet”, rhetorically questions Silicon Valley startup CEO, Mike Jordan (Barnaby Falls), in Anush Moorthy’s play “Unicorns”, a satire on modern era startups. It’s a perfect script to be presented without the elaborate set, costumes, or lights, to a small, intimate gathering of Silicon Valley audience. The play was performed on second stage at Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, by NAATAK company which has won for three years in a row in 2015, 2016, and 2017, the San Jose Mercury News Reader’s Choice Award, for “Best Live Theatre in Silicon Valley”.

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Unicorns traces an engineer’s journey as he joins Oberherr, a high valuation startup. Paranoid Silicon Valley culture has made it imperative for Oberherr, to be extremely secretive regarding their products and offerings. In the absence of talking about their products, in order to get noticed before the big launch and the IPO, the company banks on heavy use of buzzwords. Mike often says, “at Oberherr, we imaginate, innovate, ideate”. Dressed in the style made fashionable among high achievers by  Apple’s former boss, Steve Jobs, in black turtleneck and blue jeans, Mike insists, their engineers “create things from nothingness”.

The company has eliminated desks to enable free flow of thinking and interaction and employees are forbidden to talk about the company, outside its premises. And then there is a palpable omnipresence of the board (Havish Ravipati) keeping a tight focus on the impending IPO. All this paranoia and cutthroat mentality has created interesting dynamics at Oberherr. While Radhika (Tannistha Mukherjee) is highly territorial and least helpful to newbies, her accomplishments go unnoticed in supposedly “egalitarian” workplace, dominated by men.  Ramanathan (Natraj Kumar) has learned to get noticed by sucking up to Mike, and Robin (Rohit Mukherjee) stays out of trouble by staying focused on his laptop. Sahil (Varghese Muthalaly) is fabulous in his role as a new engineer joining Oberherr whose fortune rises and tumbles at the blink of an eye. Sahil shares a healthy camaraderie with a fellow software engineer, Joyce (Aparna Warrier) but couldn’t explain even to his wife Priya (Preeti Bhat) about company’s products.

As seen from a few recent debacles, (one of the prominent one being Theranos) there are interesting shortcomings in the hyped up Silicon Valley startup culture.  The focus on speed and short term gains, at the expense of long term vision and value-add of its offerings is often proportionately correlated with diminishing concern for people, true teamwork and quality of life. People become pawns in a system when stretching the truth isn’t just overlooked but sometimes admired, in quest for world domination and mad rush to IPOs.  Unicorns by NAATAK is a fantastic spoof on the Silicon Valley startup culture. This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season in the bay area. Tickets may be available at www.naatak.com .

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Postman Always Rings Twice – Play Review


San Jose Stage Company premiered a new stage adaptation by Jon Jory of “Postman Always Rings Twice”, directed by Kenneth Kelleher, as a part of their 35th anniversary season. Adapted from 1934 novel by James M. Cain that was also made into a 1946 classic film with Lana Turner and John Garfield, this is a crime thriller with some twists and turns.

Image result for postman always rings twice, san joseSince its first appearance in 1934, this story captured the minds and gained high popularity.  Frank (Jonathan Rhys Williams) is not only morally bankrupt but is a hobo without a sense of purpose or ambition in life. He makes a pit stop at a rural California diner for a meal and is offered a job by Nick Papadakis (Robert Sicular), the Greek owner of the diner. Franks ends up staying and soon begins a passionate affair with Nick’s wife, Cora (Allison F. Rich).

Image result for postman always rings twice, san joseCora swoons to Frank’s rough and tumble approach to life but is unhappy with her inconvenient husband standing in the way. The first part in the play moves rather slowly and mostly focuses on Frank and Cora plotting to remove the inconvenience out of the way. In part two the story picks up speed as the duo attempts to put into practice their questionable motives and intentions. A murder plot is hatched but gets botched, elopement is planned and then abandoned, even the confession after a crime does not turn out as intended.

Apart from keeping the audience guessing, the play’s many twists and turns inevitably make one wonder (especially give the current monumental political reality), as to how much and how far can lies be stretched without consequences, and if not the law, then would fate catch up to it ultimately? The play is running at The Stage in San Jose till May 6, 2018 and tickets can be obtained at www.thestage.org .

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Skeleton Crew – Play Review


“Skeleton Crew” by playwright Dominique Morisseau, currently playing at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto is a joint venture between Mountain View’s TheatreWorks Center for Performing Arts and Mill Valley’s Marin Theatre Company. Directed by Jade King Carroll, the play is set in in 2008, in the break room of an auto manufacturing plant in Detroit. By then Detroit had already begun the deep slide into the recession and as the play opens we can sense palpable tension among the employees, surrounding the possible but yet unannounced plant closure.

Image result for skeleton crew, theatreworksWe often hear about the statistics of a major economic downturn, for instance, between 2007 and 2009, Michigan lost over 30,000 auto jobs and lost over 700,000 of its population (due to move and other factors), and between 2003 and 2009, Michigan’s GDP shrunk dramatically and its private sector unemployment declined by over 13%. However, it is not often that we get to reflect on the massive human impact of such dramatic economic downturn, where ordinary people taking pride in their ordinary everyday jobs, experience homelessness, or consider walking around with guns for protection as crime spikes, or are walking around stressed out because of the impending uncertainty.  

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Leslie Martinson deserves great kudos for finest cast of characters, who all happen to be black, reflecting the reality on ground in Detroit.. Faye (Margo Hall) has worked at the plant for 29 years. She ignores her own troubles as she generously goes around fighting on behalf of her coworkers, even as she feels deep empathy for the plant manager. The plant manager Reggie (Lance Gardner) walks a fine line between towing the company line on behalf of the management, while feeling responsible for the impact of ongoing uncertainty on the lives of the employees, with many of whom he has strong bonds. Dez (Christian Thompson) is a volatile young man, suspicious of the motives of the management and afraid of the increase in crime in his neighborhood. Shanita (Tristan Cunningham) is a pregnant young mother who has a cutting sense of humor and takes enormous pride in “building something meaningful”. She just can’t afford to lose the benefits as her baby is due to arrive any day.

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These are people whose lives will likely be wrecked and in the play, we get a window into just that short period when they are trying to ignore the stress of uncertainty, going about doing  their jobs, arguing about who stole the food, jovially pulling each other’s legs and the impending chaos that will soon hurtle them from camaraderie and collegial support into homelessness, sleeping on the couch, and all the related impact of stress on their families.

The management can lessen the human impact by announcing the plant closure earlier to give people opportunities to plan. However, management has their own selfish motives to keep it a secret. The uncertainty erodes trust among the employees and between the employees and the plant manager; also leads to theft by someone presumed to be a disgruntled employee and there are rumors of someone bringing a gun to work. In the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, people still manage to find strength to survive, to be there for one another, to speak up for each other and ultimately to sacrifice their own comfort and happiness for a colleague they cared for.

Image result for skeleton crew, theatreworksAt its heart, this is a heart-rending human story that is lived again and again; made even more relevant during the current turbulent times when the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is not only widening but with total ignorance of the top tier to listen to their plight and offer real solutions, it is likely to widen even more, and there will likely be more people living through these tragic experiences.  This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season in the  bay area, and will be running till April 1, 2018 at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto. Tickets will be available at www.theatreworks.org .

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Muavze – NAATAK Play Review


Set in an unnamed city in India, Naatak’s current play Muavze gives a peak in the world of Indian politics where everything has a price; everyone has a price and everyone have learned to extract whatever they can when the cards are played. Written by Bhisham Sahni and directed by Harish Agastya this play is a witty and hilarious satire on how everyone begins to plot ways of benefiting from the communal riots when it looks as if the riots are imminent. Interspersed with colorful Bollywood type songs and dances and brilliant set, the play keeps the audience riveted. Kudos to Ritwik Verma and Harish Agastya for very apt lyrics, Rajesesh Tripathi and Saurabh Jain and team for absolutely incredible sets and props,  Anitha Dixit and Srikar Srinath for fantastic music, Manish Sabu for English supertitles, and entire large cast for excellent acting. Photo credit to Kyle Adler at kadlerphotography.com/events/naatak-muavze/

The word “Muavze”, meaning compensation is a relieving word and it is an irony that everyone is eyeing for ways to distill some form of personal advantage from what is expected to be most bloody communal fighting. Apparently a dead horse is an instigation for entire community to go into riot prep mode. While no one thinks of ways to prevent the riots, everyone is preparing for them from politicians who are keeping prepared speeches to be given at the beginning and end of the riot, to speech writers, to police team going on high alert ready to intervene after the riot begins, but not before, to arms and knives sellers hawking their wares to the highest bidders. Even some brave individuals are preparing to sacrifice the men in their families so that the remaining members of the family can benefit from the compensation that the government has announced, for anyone killed during the riots.  It is such an irony that value of life and limb is predetermined and therefore the riot is now looked at by everyone as a mere fact of life to deal with and benefit in ways they can. It is absolute genius of Bhisham Sahni that he has taken most terrifying subject of communal bloodshed and expressed it as a comedy, without losing sight of the intensity and impact of the riots in a community.

It is also absolute genius of brilliant director Agastya that he has managed to transform the play into an amusing musical through catchy lyrics and parody music, without losing the seriousness of the subject. Starting with juxtaposition of opposing words like riots and compensation, the entire play offers a medley of opposing ideas, characters, actions, settings, and phrases. For instance, a contract killer adheres to strict code of ethics and also does not drink alcohol so he can go home, drink milk, and forget about the killings and sleep happily. There is juxtaposition of settings and also of lyrics in songs, for instance, parody of song, “Some of my favorite things” in film Sound of Music has become “Muavza jo de de humko” and song “Vaada tera vaada” of film Dushman has become “Yeh hai mera neta”.

While the play is a window into the world of the communal fighting and the toll it extracts in a community, it also speaks to immense resilience of human beings. When extremely heart-rending situations become a way of life and get ingrained in the system, when human beings are mere cogs in a gigantic wheel, unable to stop or challenge, then their choices are to get crushed by the gigantic wheel or become part of running it and extract personal benefit.  The ultimate irony is that when masses pick up the call to propagate the system then the system gets more entrenched and the play ends in a nightmare when contract killer is popularly chosen to become the political leader. Kudos to NAATAK for such a timely play. This is an absolutely brilliant and not-to-miss play of this theater season in the bay area. For tickets, go to www.naatak.com .

 

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Alabama Story: Play Review


This play is set in Montgomery, Alabama, a place that has so much historical significance, both as the Cradle of the Confederacy and the Cradle of Civil Rights. “Alabama Story” is a powerful play by Kenneth Jones and is inspired by real events in “the Deep South of the imagination”.

Image result for alabama story city lightsThe incident springs from an innocent children’s story book published in 1958 (one may say it hides an apparent message promoting diversity).  Author and illustrator Garth Williams (best known for his illustrations in Charlotte’s Web and Little House On the Prairie) released a book called The Rabbits’ Wedding, where a black rabbit marries a white rabbit. This gentle children’s book created a massive stir and ignited the passions of a State Senator who harbored strong segregationist agenda. Senator Higgins (Erik Gandolfi) issued a request for the book to be pulled out of state’s library shelves on the charge that it promoted “race-mixing”.

Image result for alabama story city lightsThe story would end there, if it was not for a no-nonsense State Librarian, Emily Reed (Karen DeHart). She counters him saying that the book is an important vehicle for educating the impressionable youth and young minds must get all the information available so they can make their own decisions about people and circumstances. She in fact, ordered the book to be pulled out of shelves and out of general circulation and instead put it in reserve circulation so that it would always remain available.

Image result for alabama story city lightsThis public feud unfolds against the backdrop of intimate story of childhood friends, Joshua (Bezachin Jifar), son of a house slave woman and Lily Whitfield (Maria Giere Marquis), daughter of a slave owner.

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This is a simple yet powerful play that makes a bold statement about how a character may be tested at critical times and those who can withstand the test of character are the powerful figures that reshape the community; reshape a nation. Reed faced tremendous political pressure from the state politicians and at one time she said, “We have had difficulty with the book…. But we have not lost our integrity”. Mixed in with the politically charged focus of the play, there is some courtroom drama, childhood love, hint of passion, and a glimpse into how history may have unfolded in so many different ways, big and small, in private and intimate recesses of one’s mind and in public arena, during one of the most significant periods in America.  Superb direction is by Lisa Mallette, who is in her 17th season at City Lights.

I declare, this is a not-to-miss play of this theater season and will be running at City Lights Theater in San Jose, until February 18, 2018. For tickets, check the website www.cltc.org .

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