Posts Tagged theater

KK: @naatak Play Review

Bay Area’s phenomenal @Naatak company has passed the mark of producing over 100 plays on stage. In it’s 101st production, the audience get a treat to travel through and re-discover iconic Indian city, New Delhi and meet a diverse group of busy people typical to be found in a large metropolis. 

The chief protagonist KK (fabulously played by Ritwik Verma) is a professor of Hindi literature and an ardent fan of 19th century poet, Bhartendu Harishchandra, famously revered as the father of Hindi literature. Poet Bhartendu was a fearless journalist, honest writer, and a passionate poet and refuted the religious orthodoxy of the time. KK lives a sheltered life, primarily engrossed in poetry. He says, “My time passes in consuming poetry” (“मेरा समय तो काव्यरस में बीत जाता है”).

One day, KK ventures out of his familiar routine presumably in search of what he treasures immensely. KK travels through Connaught Place or CP as it is fondly known in Delhi. CP is a shopping mecca, food haven, scene of many Bollywood films and CP runs in concentric circles around the lush green Central Park and serves as a backdrop to the play. As KK makes his way through Delhi, he loses his way, helps someone find their way, is overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, makes several attempts to get someone to listen to him recite his poetry, confuses others with his naivety and is confused with the price of goods and complex value system that operates underneath all transactions. KK makes his way to Naveen Pustakalay (a bookstore with the name of new that sells old books). Bookstore’s ad says, “at Naveen bookstore, you can find old, voluminous, thin, torn, published, in pandulipi and books in many other conditions”) (“नवीन पुस्तकालय में पुरानी, मोटी, पतली, फटी हुई, छपी हुई, पांडुलिपि, और कई  अवस्थामे पुस्तके उपलब्ध है”).  

The props in the play are brilliant. Major kudos to prop leads, Anitha Dixit and Saurabh Jain, and the entire team. Listening to the finest, purest Hindi and poetry is another special treat. After watching phenomenal, spell binding acting by Ritwik Verma, it is hard to imagine anyone else in this role. However, the play is played by five different actors during its various showings in the Bay Area. Written by Sujit Saraf and directed by Vikas Dhurka, this incredible play is sure to keep the audience spell bound throughout KK’s many adventures that ultimately lead him to the center of a mysterious plot akin to Hindi film adventure. But as they say it is not the destination that matters, it’s the journey and how well the journey prepares one to step up to what awaits at the destination and this is a journey you’re destined to enjoy.  Visit for tickets.

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The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity – Play Review

A play about wrestling?  I almost did not go to see this one.  I would have missed one heck of a play.  Makes one think about what wrestling represents in the minds of many of us.  The playwright Kristoffer Diaz has created an interesting juxtaposition of vastly different communities in this excellent play, masterfully directed by Jonathan Williams.  Stage Manager, Meredith King and Set Designer, Ian Wallace have done an amazing job in recreating the environment suitable for wrestling matches, one of the oldest forms of combative sports.


Wrestling (Photo credit: fotobydave)

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”, a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is not just a play about sports.  It is a play about what it means to have an American dream and how certain sports and wrestling for sure, embody the American dream.  In fact, after Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., a son of a plumber, won multiple grand wrestling championships and various titles, he was renamed, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.  In this play, Macedonio Guerra, known as Mace, a wrestler of Puerto Rican decent, describes his childhood fascination with the art and the business of wrestling. He talks about what the sport meant for him and his brothers and how it molded his own aspirations.

When he entered the game of professional wrestling however, he hit the glass ceiling, sooner than he had anticipated.  He was rather short and not highly charismatic and was therefore deemed a non-championship material.  Instead, he became a professional “looser”.  He plays his character and is also the narrator, in the play.  Through him, we get a glimpse into the world of professional wrestling, buzzing with racism, jingoism, and xenophobia, not to mention, certain level of ignorance.  And sometimes there are people who  mask their smartness, to fit in.  Mace almost calls on the ignorant and racist remarks of his boss, but then thinks better of it, and says, “I let my boss be right”.  He says, as a professional looser, his job is to “make the winner look good”; to make the winner look as though he defeated the opponent with considerable force and strength.   The pre-determined champion, in a sport where fights are frequently “fixed”, and body slams, mounted punches, backhand swings, and other moves are often rehearsed and faked, is Chad Deity, a charismatic, engaging, tall black man with an easy smile and a powerful voice.

Mace however, sees his big break that could help him inch closer to realizing the American dream, when he finds a charismatic champion hidden under the carefree Indian kid, Vigneshware Paduar.  Mace presents VP to his boss EKO and tells him “I will do the heavy lifting” in prepping VP.  VP fights the bad guy, Billy Heartland and then EKO fascinated by VP’s foreign decent and non traditional stance, starts planning the best way VP can be presented to the fans.  He wants to present him as Muslim terrorist, even though VP is Hindu, building on the notion that sometimes, racial identity may be exploited, in pursuit of the American dream.  EKO presents VP as an evil Muslim, called the Fundamentalist, who with his sleeper cell kick, seemingly poses a threat to the American Dream guy Chad Deity.  All the four wrestlers, Mace (played by Andrew Perez), Chad Deity (played by Donald Paul), Vigneshware Paduar or VP (played by Jaspal Binning), and bad guy Billy Heartland (played by James Long), and the owner of the wrestling team, EKO (Randall King) do an amazingly superb job.  It is worth it to see the play just to see their fabulous wrestling moves and characteristic wrestling boasts.  

This beautiful, satirical, amazingly witty play also blends in tenderness and poetic storytelling.  Towards the end, VP and Mace begin to realize that they are becoming parts of the exploitative machine, by accepting the soundbites, the racially charged epithets, and by readily abandoning the truth.  The satire is not just on the professional sport of wrestling.  The joke is also on theater goers, who may have come to see this sport, with its loud music, bright lights, unusual attires, and rough language, as “lowbrow”.  The fact that underneath the façade and faked exterior are real people, striving for the same things that make the American dream, some respect, recognition, and feeling of “having arrived”, is an eye-opener.

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is a not-to-miss play of this season, and it is playing at The Stage in San Jose, until November, 10.  For tickets, please go to

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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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