Posts Tagged @NAATAK

God of Carnage – Play Review (Bay Area, CA – NAATAK Co. Production)


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.

God of Carnage

God of Carnage (Photo credit: angela n.)

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Vande Mataram – Play Review


Flag adopted by the Indian National Congress i...

Flag adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1931. First hoisted on 1931-10-31 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Let me take you back to the year, 1942”, thus begins the play, taking the audience back to August 8, 1942, the day when Gandhi launched the “Quit India” movement, against the British.  Based on real events, the story of Keezhariyur Bomb Case in Malabar, Kerala is adapted for stage by brilliant playwright and director, Sujit Saraf and produced by Gopi Rangan.

 

India, in 1942, was a diverse nation, divided by languages, dialects, caste, class, religion, and loyalties, and divided by the lack of infrastructure, in the analog age.  India’s struggle to rid itself of the colonialism has to be as complex and multifaceted, as its people.  It is even a marvel that Gandhiji managed to unite the nation and helped achieve India’s independence, spearheading the struggle under the banner of non-violence.  But there were various rebel groups and leaders, with their own brand of nationalism, their own value system, their own worldview, and their own interest in future independence of India, that resulted in multitude of little struggles.  Some of these ended in small scale violence, only to ignite a sizeable imperialistic response, some puttered and fizzled out, some joined forces with others, and eventually most gave their support to Gadhi’s non-violent struggle for independence.

 

The characters of this play, tell the story of one group of Indian rebels, in the 1940s, in the backward state of Bihar (at the time), and the superb cast makes them truly memorable.  Led by a Colorado trained professor, brilliantly played by Salil Singh, a small group of rebels discuss the plan to shake up the Brits, with some strategic bomb blasts.  Sujit Saraf, in the role of a renegade Congressman, is equally superb, as he straddles the issue between allegiance to Gandhi’s perspectives and participation in the Professor’s activist stance.  Mukund Marathe and Amol Deshmane, in the role of two brothers at odds with each other, coming together to finance the rebel project, are also fantastic.  Their participation in the project, heals their earlier wounds and they are both in agreement that that their businesses not suffer any harm on account of their participation in this project.  Surender Singh, also fantastic, in the role of the restaurantor, provides the space for the project.  Soumya Chakravorty, plays the role of Banwari, recruited to build and detonate the bombs.  Banwari refuses to work alongside Muslims, he is in equal measure prejudiced, fanatic, stupid, and a victim of his circumstances, who looses his land to land owners but feels compelled to do something, against injustice.  Chakravorty is absolutely brilliant in this role.

 

This group of individuals could not be more different, in terms of their interests and affiliations, their cynicism, idealism, and ambition, and are coming together and uniting in one cause, independence of the nation.  Will this group, so flimsily connected, stay true to the cause and hold together or will it fall apart by betrayal, stupidity, or other self-interests?  Irrespective of whether they will succeed or fail, this is a fantastic play about human endeavors to be free, at the very basic level.  It is a play that brings out the complexity inherent in the task of nation building.  Saraf moved the story to Bihar (from the real life incident, that took place in Kerala), so that it can be produced in Hindi.  Eventual language is a beautiful mix of Hindi, Bhojpuri, and Marwari.  Excellent set design is by Siva Kollipara.  Vineeta Singh and crew have done great job in set building.  Sowmya Ballakur has provided supertitles, so the play can be enjoyed by non-Hindi speaking audience members as well.   And once again, I will say the entire cast is brilliant and the acting is flawless.

 

Vande Mataram is playing to sold out audiences.  Book your tickets early.  For registration, go to www.naatak.com .

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Death in San Francisco – (NAATAK co.) Play Review


Once again NAATAK company of Indian theater enthusiasts, enthralled the audience with the amazing performance of the play, “Death in San Francisco”, written and directed by Sujit Saraf and produced by Asheesh Divetia.

The play opens with the scene where Naveen Chandra Gupta, resident of San Francisco, has died, leaving behind an unusual request for last rites. His wife is committed to fulfilling his last wish, despite all the challenges, and she gets possession of the body, from the hospital. Despite the disagreements with the odd request of Gupta, and some internal conflicts, her friends oblige and commit themselves to helping her. Her mother-in-law who lived with them, also wishes to see her son’s last wish fulfilled. Gupta’s young son, despite having grown up in the US, does not question the rationality of his father’s last wish.

The family seeks the permission from the city and that is being delayed. Also, it is a memorial day weekend and many places are closed. Additionally, the air conditioner breaks down and due to oppressive heat, the body begins to decompose and smell. Some of the friends really begin to question the logic behind such a decision. Also the dead man Gupta’s brother arrives from India and he questions this decision as well. They question the dead man’s love for his own country. If he in fact loved his own country so much then why did he not return back to India; why did he always complain of dirt, noise, corruption, and pollution in India; why did he not go often to the temple, etc. Gupta and his brother were estranged and had not spoken with each other for 20 years and Gupta had not visited India often. The brother scoffs at the ignorance of his brother’s outdated request, saying that things have changed even in India.

On the other hand, Gupta’s wife is increasingly certain about her intention to fulfill his request.  She also asserts that having lived in this country, it is their right to choose to do death rites according to their faith. She also tells their lawyer that Gupta’s decision about living in the US, changed the course of her own life. Even though Gupta himself did not achieve huge success that he had dreamed of, she got certain freedom and independence in this country, that she never could have enjoyed in India.  She felt therefore obliged to fulfill her husband’s last wishes. On the other hand, the friends also question her devotion to her husband because she does not break down and is not hysteric over the death of her husband. But they all pledge their help. They run around to get the permission, people, and materials to fulfill this odd last request. Almost towards the end, before the body is taken, the wife learns some new details about her husband’s life.

Sometimes sad and sometimes hilarious, this quirky comedy is Sujit Saraf’s 9th play. It raises many questions. What does love for one’s country of origin mean? How does one show the love for one’s own country? Is it by sending donations, teaching Bharatnatyam (Indian classical dance) to the kids (like one of Gupta’s friend asserts), is it by choosing rites and rituals at different stages of life and death, is it by returning back to the homeland? How does one show the love for one’s adopted homeland? What can one expect in one’s adopted homeland? How do people preserve their identity?

As is typical of NAATAK plays, the set was well done, with complete attention to detail.  Additionally, the director has indeed gone to great lengths to obtain some unusual props. The cast, including Ranjita Chakravarthy, Aruna Sheth, Phill Wiseman, Arnav Gautam and others, gave a brilliant performance.  This is a not to miss play with very few remaining seats for only some of the performances. The play is being performed at the Theater on San Pedro Square, in San Jose, CA.

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