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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Infant J and the Black Sea


Play: On Account of Being A Woman
Script: Manasi Subramaniam
Direction: Yours Faithfully
Performed by: The J Theatre
Produced by: SIE Trust & JBAS College for Women
Rating: 2 and half stars (may be!).... out of.... PITY!

I survived. It was not as bad as I feared. Believe me, at one point, it just wasn't happening. Not especially when a key player drops out of the show on pretext of parental disapproval a week before the show and a new person - who has not been physically optimal - has to step in to all those lines and reblockings! We just barely scrapped through 2 run throughs before the show. And everyone except myself were optimistic the show is going to hit headlines for all the wrong reasons. Well... as for me, I was realistic that this is a still-born. And so we moved into the Tech day, where to further add value to my negative beliefs, a lighting rig and focus that normally takes 5 hours took 8 hours. It was not complete when we decided to stop the focus to bare minimum and get on with the tech as the players had to go home, each carrying an IPC 144 (read Parental for P) and curfews ranging from 5 pm back home to 8 pm. I went home blissfully sure that the infant J was headed for crucifixtion even before the wine and wafer day!
And then it all kind of came through on the opening night. I would attribute it mainly to a 400+ strong home crowd. It was like a local cricketer going into bat on home ground. Of course, the cast slipped and shlepped around initially. But once the initial jitters vanished and the crowd warmed up, they went through it smoothly. I wouldn't say this production is my crowning glory. It won't even get into my Top 20 productions, it won't! But no damage done. The tech areas worked pretty smooth. Since the set was unit and needed no change... since the props were not too many and the cast handled the same themselves... and we had focussed hands on sound and lights... things seemed a lot better than I sound. Had it been otherwise, the onstage performance would have looked bad. It had its draggy moments, to confess. I stand charged for this offense and accept the verdict.
It was amateur theatre, no doubt. Some of them have diction problems even. But again, considering the background of some in terms of their lineage, as well as their past institutions, it was like adult education programme in theatre. Add to it, couple of them are first generation college goers. Probably that was the most significant aspect of this. Early evening, before the show last night (24th), I was talking to a press friend of mine who had come to meet us. I told her precisely this. I may not have got the same satisfaction had I worked with any other college (that leave alone has a heritage and tradition in theatre) where some of the students come to do studies after having matriculated from some of the creme-de-la-creme schools in city and elsewhere.
I am not trying to make it sound like these are losers of the planets when it comes to education; but: there are some very bright kids. And pedigreed financially and/or culturally as well. I mean, these kids have basic theatre skill sets in them. This is one thing for which I am jealous at them. Some of them from the not so upper echelons of schools in Chennai have an active street theatre background or more zealous school-day-affairs, they come equipped with a good body language. Add to it, having been through life with a big L I F E at an early age, they are able to identify layers and subtexts in the script.
It is not an easy script. It may look straight-forward and black&white, but believe me, Manasi has done a pretty good job. The craft is pretty decent, the way the script swings between dealing with the issue seriously and providing comic thrust when the going gets a little too grave. And by design or accident, she has also provided enough scope for people to double up, get enough time to change costume, be in two places at the same time without making it sound obvious... etc. And it ends with solving the problem it started with. Not the core of the play's thesis is sorted out. Which is a good thing. You can only present problems on stage and leave the end ambivalently. Apparently, I was told, one newspaper that carried the story about the show yesterday (yes, story. Where do we get Reviews these days!!!) signed off saying the end left the audience puzzled. Can't the audience be given the liberty to conjecture? Have the comedies by the city theatre groups dullened the intellectuality of theatre going audience? I guess this is where my crusade in theatre is. Veer off those hard-core comedy only audience back to THEATRE.
This is a play within a play. A journalist whose ass is being hauled up now and for good, has to get a story to convince her editor-boss to get a stay on her job. It's a man's world. And she has a Jerry on her hands whose lazy-bone attitude stalls things. He is chill madi-ed so to speak your local teen lingo. In this situation, she stumbles on a group of women who have taken refuge inside an NRI woman's organisation and refuse to go home until their husbands sign legal contracts to treat them better. And the cops are having a tough time, being the only ones who are let in there because of their badges... but are let in to provide protection to these women who are striking against beings of their (read men) own ilk.
Talking of body work, the Act 4 interrogation scene of one of the victimised woman (a hallucinatory scene) I had designed as a mime on domestic violence with actors also doubling up as molesters and sadists. The afternoon 11.30 show for college students actually left a few girls genuinely crying at the sadism on stage. For all that, these girls didn't even put their finger nail on the victim, in the course of mime. I thought that was success with S for them. When your audience identify with your character and not just laugh...laugh...laugh... Anyone with a 8-bit memory in their backsides for timing could make any audience laugh!
Talking of laughter, the play turned out to have plenty more to laugh than we had expected. The performance was 1 hr and 2 mins long. Dealing with DV and Harassment. And when I cumulatively put together the audience reaction over three shows vis-a-vis laughter (hahaha sort, not just the grin on your face!), each show had an average 40% laughter. And that's not bad. The play was entertainment, gave people something to laugh at... no mere punch-bag foot-longs of one liners. And when the audience identified themselves with the script and hooted and jeered the men as well as clapped for the women who took aggressive stance at men... it was EMPOWERMENT all the way. This was one production that I have done till date that was entertainment cum empowerment, proving once again my belief that theatre is not just a 9-inch long battery operated gizmo that gives shocks of laughter-release for the unreleased, but a cutting edge tool that can truly respect and seek to elevate their higher cerebral functions even while providing them a certain emotional cathartic release. Would you believe: I made announcements to the crowd to put their mobiles on silent, not bring beverages or crush plastics while eating inside audi, etc etc... and also said "feel free to applaud or even whistle".
90% women... clad to the extent where I have never before seen such a densely concentrated assemblage of black clothes from the crown Jack broke to the heel Achilles got hurt, with an occasional flash of a pair of eyes and uncreased foreheads. I truly felt like that Doctor chap in Rushdie's Midnight's Children, having to get to know his patient (in my case, clientele) in EMIs through two holes in a bedsheet! But when my announcement went on air and the play started, I could see pairs of hands from inside these black hoods creeping up, flashing gleaming nails polished with flourescent reds and irridiscent blues, vanishing into their labio-dental openings! And what whistles we had! All in the secure knowledge of their anonymity insured by the darkness enveloping the audience part of the venue.
At the end, when the Feminist activist slaps her Superintendent husband, couple of older women actually stood up and gave a standing ovation. My god... Manasi you missed the afternoon show of your own script! It was, to get back to reality, not even a 70% good performance, as the cast was still groggy from the hangover of the previous night premiere. But the hysteria they whipped up! So, it was at the end, not a nightmare as I had thought earlier at all. It was not something I would get delirious over. As I said, I had done at least 20 more better shows than this. But for the sheer experience of realising what it is to be a woman... and a woman inside those mass of textiles with so much pent up... to be a first-generation learner getting empowered to speak for themselves... it was worth it. In the process, I became aware what it is to most of the times be a man (sometimes I felt like the sole survivor after the 7 day deluge left on Noah's Ark only the denizens of Amazonia and myself as I walked the last 2 months into that campus on MKB Road, connecting Mount Road on the West and TTK Road on the East)! How inspite of the fact that this Unicorn walking inside their secure precincts could throw discomfort. It was like Abimanyu creating chaos inside the Kuru Chakra Vyuha... only to be decimated to a higher realisation. POWER IS ALL ABOUT POSSESSION OF SPACE. SPACE THEORY IS REAL. MAN STILL HAS NOT LANDED ON MOON. Because when I searched for him in the moon in the light of the lamp held by the Lady in the Moon, I couldn't find him; but I found myself! A new dimension added to the artist in me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is this the reckoning?

I stand poised... no, perched would be a better expression... best would be precariously perched... Anyway, I stand precariously perched on the precipitous edge of a momentous occasion.

I have always believed "the worst is yet to come". And I have always answered the query, "which is your best production?" with "my next one perhaps!". But now I know. This is apocalypse, now! Which is my worst production? My next one. Right now... in two days time.

If I were asked to sequence in whirlwind buzzer in KBC... Rate the recent theatre shows you saw in the order of bad worse worst... it would be A: KoF B: Antigone C: Chap 2... Now I have something coming up on my own doorstep and I am staring at the twin barrel with the bullet breathing on me in all its inherent deathly form: my immediate production of the J Theatre play I have been involved in directing over the last month and half... going public on 23rd and 24th at Rani Seethai Hall. "On Account of Being a Woman" (a title I have thrust upon the script much to the chagrin of the beleagured script-writer). It's an explosive script according to me. And in the hands of a good director... (add to it, with an excellent cast), it can stun the audience. Most things that could go wrong with it has gone wrong. But am not going to offer excuses because, as far as the audience is concerned, What you See is What you Got and Who cares What happened Behind the Scenes???

If KBC asked me to rate, it would be thus: KoF - Bad, Antigone - Worse, Chapter 2 - Worst, On Account of Being a Woman - Worsted (am not sure if I would be in a suiting, but am sure to be shot at the end of this show by the public and the theatre fraternity... if it doesn't pan out!). But there are three more immediate english productions coming up, let's see. Bala's directing The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht (in an adapted form) for Ethiraj College (24 and 25 at Museum Theatre) and Mike is doing a couple of Murray Schisgals - sometime early March (Schisgal is to Mike as John Patrick is to KK and Neil Simon is to Evam!) for LTS (Loyola Theatre Society) and some new company called Boulevard View Productions is doing Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn! At Alliance 24-26 Feb (Ever heard of it Simonites out there?). So plenty to hope for in Chennai's alternative Theatre, i.e., considering the oldest group is the only mainstream group in town.

God help the paying public!

Will let you all know what happened to my show, on 24th night in my follow-up blog!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Antigone... ante(d) up and gone!

I am posting this blog just as hot as I can get it... in terms of immediacy; not in terms of its content. Because the content of this content was not hot either. I take my time before putting my thoughts in the 'emotions recollected in tranquility' style, but this one has to take the cake. I am posting in a hurry lest I forget the emotions. Simply because the event was very forgettable.

A few days back I stared the bullet in its barrel point by posting that egregious post on Chapter Two of Neil Simon, sent into Chapter Eleven by Evam. Now, hot on its heels, from the same venue comes Antigone by Jean Anouilh - the French adapation of the Greek legend.

Antigone has been through playwrights from Greece to South Africa. Antigone has been a special tragedy even in comparison to its sibling classics Electra and Medea. The reason: the tragedy of Antigone is all about political expediency, power and the dignity of human emotion in the face of adversity that threatens to suppress individual democratic freedom in the name of authoritarian edicts. Unlike Electra, who breathes fire and brimstone in words before steering her brother Orestes to take revenge on behalf of her father Aegisthus who was murdered in the bath by the latter's own wife Clytemnestra, Antigone seeks to bring respect and decorum to a personal tragedy fomented on people as public calumny; unlike Medea who seeks to revenge her husband Jason for slighting her by taking another wife (Glauke, daughter of Kreon) and who kills Glauke, breaks Kreon's heart, kills her own two children before taking flight into the skies to join her grandfather Sun God, Antigone seeks to redress a ceremonial wrong.

Antigone's story is one that elevates and restores human faith in goodness. She tries after all to give a decent burial to the dead body of her brother Polyneikes, who has been condemned as the Enemy of the State by their Uncle Kreon (who retained the right to rule even after the power of attorney wore on his when both Eteocles and Polyneikes demanded their right to ascend their father Oedipus' throne!). Her argument is this: Polyneikes may be the enemy of the state and her other brother Eteocles may be a state hero. Both died and Eteocles got a burial of state honour. Polyneikes did not. To her both are brothers and they did her no wrong. And it is her duty in the absence of her father Oedipus and mother Jocasta and at the indifference of her sister Ismene, to give Polyneikes the denied burial. Even if it is against the order of the state. How can the public intrude into the private life? This is the conflict that makes the story of ANTIGONE worth exploring as a subject fit enough for any sort of literary or oral narrative. The personal and the public at lightsabers at each other. And the subject has gone through thorough treatment by everyone from Sophocles to Holderlin and Brecht to Anouilh.

Recently, the Stella Maris College decided to stage Anouilh's version of ANTIGONE as their annual theatre production. Directed by Deesh Mariwala, it went on stage for performance from 10th to 12th February. And I had the misfortune of witnessing the performance on 12th. I am not ashamed to say that I walked with still half hour to go. About 36 hours back, I had talked to a member of the cast that I knew well how the production was and how the premiere night was. I was told that except for some mobile toting, armpits scented bimbos who walked one hour late into the show and walked half hour late, the show was good. Wishing her luck and obliging some friends at Stella, I went to see the show.

Anouilh treats the play with certain freshness that makes you sit back and say, "Hey, this guy is not using the story to his own ideological purposes. He is no Holderlin who romantices the language, he is no Brecht who used it for his agit-prop purposes by placing the locale in the Nazi bunkers of the WW-II, he is no Athol Fugard who uses it launch a dialectics of South African apartheid! Anouilh's treatment pits a side of Kreon which we had not seen till now - the human who cares for Antigone... who cares for his son Hamon... who like a subversive Shakuni (who took to supporting Kauravas so that he could avenge the death of his own brothers killed by the Kurus in their launch against Gandhar Desh and thus bring the downfall of the Kuru vamsh) decides to run his political course even though he had inherited the throne upon compulsion. And he pleads to Antigone, saying "Go home, forget what happened, I shall remove those guards who arrested you so no trace of this FIR exists". But Antigone is young and brash and obstinate and rush-of-blood-idealist who would not relent. She seeks death in the name of taking up a stand that Kreon finds amusingly painful. Kreon has traversed through experiences. He is worldly wise and realistic. Thus the stage is set for a battle royale, as they call it. The tension present in the story, the inherent conflict that can arm an impotent soldier to confrontative levels is humongous. And that is why I was frustrated and furious. The Stella production has wasted an opportunity to the stupid stress busting world of hahahas what the real power of theatre can be!

The lead pairs were not as bad as college actors can be. They looked promising. The caged tightness of Antigone's (Varsha) body language was well confronted by a confident Kreon (Padmini). That was to start with. That was upon Kreon's introduction. But soon Antigone became flat as horse-piss in a can of overnight out-fizzed Beck's you get supplied in in-flight Lufthansa and was stuck to those hunched shoulders and arrested lung-pipe between her head and shoulders! She moved stereotypically through the one and half hour that I managed to stay. I saw more of her gluteous than her face and got an occasional darshan of her hair. As for Kreon, the girl has a voice box to be proud of. But it gets monotonous when there is no inflection beyond 5 degrees of emotions. As it wore on, there was nothing happening, the plot leading nowhere. This is the expand version of story-telling, there was no advancement of narrative. And when there is a minimalist (read zero) set approach and a few stools and chairs and a lone table as excuse for props and furns, you better put up a strong whiskey in the vat! The poison did manage to gulch the throat for starters... but the burn soon turned to be a bite on the tongue, the rasping vanished to bland oat.

I have heard of Deesh's attempt to do physical theatre workshops... and I got a glimpse of his physical theatre today. Well, physical theatre is not one character-player exhibiting pseudo-sadism through painful measures such as arm-twisting and booting the small of the co-actor's back. I just didn't hear too many sympathetic oohs and ouchs from the meagre audience in support of Antigone when Kreon inflicted third-degree on her. If you had seen Shared Experience Theatre's work that had toured this city enough, you would understand what I mean. As it went on, the play gathered dust instead of storm-signs. Redundant moves, repetitive emotional responses, regressive flatness of lighting lead to recognition of residual pains in my bladders, coercing me to preclude the loneliness of my corner at Pethachi and run for the remedial release of bladder-fluids into the pan-pots of the Gents Toilet. Having come out of the cold auditorium raised to freezing temperatures due to a lack of full-house warm bodies adorning those cushy seats, I did not want to get back. The lighting console supplier's technicians sitting outside warned me "another half hour to go". Well... I ran for my bike. Here I am posting the message.

This really is bad publicity for serious theatre in city and doesn't definitely enhance the reputation of the Stella Maris theatre oeuvres. A good script laid waste due to lack of tension, tempo and temerity to explore a passe East-European inquisition ambience! The costumes though were paid detailed attention to. That perhaps is the only saving grace. But when the bride is not worthy of a lay what use are the accoutrements, pray tell?

Picking Bones: The Chess playing One-woman Chorus started saying Ismene (ismean) twice and went back to correcting herself to Is-me-nee thrice before lapsing to Ismene once (which could have been tail-dropping) that means inconsistency of either pronunciation or breathing. Kreon missed and stammered over lines, bad idea to keep a profile right in the middle of the ramp and use as foot light to light the chorus' face. I have been through this heinous act on actors - as a victim that is - and it is not a very enjoyable experience to have a light right on your face when you're addressing the audience. Deesh's fetish for torches continues. Between the Cats he did at BC a while back and now, only the batteries probably have changed. It just was too much of wasted effort to impressive the audience with cheap-seat minds for small-time creative artifices. And of course, the much vaunted threat of locked doors did not work to keep the EMI exodus of disgruntled audience. And the cellphones never stopped ringing. That means, am gonna come up with an audience-etiquette post shortly!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Remembering Frost...

Hey all...

my tribute to the wisest man of poetry who said: Good Fences make Good Neighbors.

I wish India had taken this quote into account. Life would have been easy and we would not lose a match after scoring pigs litter of runs (300+) is definitely a score even Ivory Coast would defend!

Anyway, here goes a collection of Frost quotes. My favourite is the one I have blocked in Bold and Underlined!

A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.

A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.

A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age.

A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.

A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.

A mother takes twenty years to make a man of her boy, and another woman makes a fool of him in twenty

A person will sometimes devote all his life to the development of one part of his body - the wishbone.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.

A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.

A poet never takes notes. You never take notes in a love affair.

A successful lawsuit is the one worn by a policeman.

Always fall in with what you're asked to accept. Take what is given, and make it over your way. My aim in life
has always been to hold my own with whatever's going. Not against: with.

And nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.

And were an epitaph to be my story I'd have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover's quarrel with the world.

Being the boss anywhere is lonely. Being a female boss in a world of mostly men is especially so.

But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.

College is a refuge from hasty judgment.

Don't ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.

Education doesn't change life much. It just lifts trouble to a higher plane of regard.

Education is hanging around until you've caught on.

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense.

Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee, and I'll forgive Thy great big joke on me.

Freedom lies in being bold.

Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.

Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.

Hell is a half-filled auditorium.

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.

Humor is the most engaging cowardice.

I alone of English writers have consciously set myself to make music out of what I may call the sound of sense.

I always entertain great hopes.

I am a writer of books in retrospect. I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.

I am glad the invitation pleases your family. It will please my family to the fourth generation and my family of friends and, were they living, it would have pleased inordinately the kind of Grover Cleveland Democrats I had for parents.

I had a lover's quarrel with the world.

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.

I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.

I never dared to be radical when young for fear it would make me conservative when old.

I often say of George Washington that he was one of the few in the whole history of the world who was not carried away by power.

I'd just as soon play tennis with the net down.

I'm not confused. I'm just well mixed.

If one by one we counted people out/ For the least sin, it wouldn't take us long /To get so we had no one left to live with. /For to be social is to be forgiving.

If society fits you comfortably enough, you call it freedom.

If you don't know how great this country is, I know someone who does; Russia.

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.

It's a funny thing that when a man hasn't anything on earth to worry about, he goes off and gets married.

Let him that is without stone among you cast the first thing he can lay his hands on.

Life is tons of discipline. Your first discipline is your vocabulary; then your grammar and your punctuation
Then, in your exuberance and bounding energy you say you're going to add to that. Then you add rhyme and meter. And your delight is in that power.

Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.

Modern poets talk against business, poor things, but all of us write for money. Beginners are subjected to trial by market.

Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor.

My sorrow, when she's here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree; she walks the sodden pasture lane.

No memory of having starred atones for later disregard, or keeps the end from being hard.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

Nobody was ever meant, To remember or invent, What he did with every cent.

One aged man - one man - can't fill a house.

Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.

Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance.

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.

"Skepticism," is that anything more than we used to mean when we said, "Well, what have we here?"

Style is that which indicates how the writer takes himself and what he is saying. It is the mind skating circles around itself as it moves forward.

Take care to sell your horse before he dies. The art of life is passing losses on.

Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes the pressure off the second.

The best things and best people rise out of their separateness; I'm against a homogenized society because I want the cream to rise.

The best way out is always through.

The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.

The chief reason for going to school is to get the impression fixed for life that there is a book side for everything.

The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader.

The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother's always a Democrat.

The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom... in a clarification of life - not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.

The greatest thing in family life is to take a hint when a hint is intended-and not to take a hint when a hint isn't intended.

The jury consist of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.

The middle of the road is where the white line is - and that's the worst place to drive.

The only way round is through.

The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.

The snake stood up for evil in the Garden.

The strongest and most effective force in guaranteeing the long-term maintenance of power is not violence in all the forms deployed by the dominant to control the dominated, but consent in all the forms in which the dominated acquiesce in their own domination.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

The world is full of willing people; some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.

The worst disease which can afflict executives in their work is not, as popularly supposed, alcoholism; it's egotism.

There is no arguing with him, for if his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it.

There is the fear that we shan't prove worthy in the eyes of someone who knows us at least as well as we know ourselves. That is the fear of God. And there is the fear of Man-fear that men won't understand us and we shall be cut off from them.

They would not find me changed from him they knew - only more sure of all I thought was true.

Thinking isn't agreeing or disagreeing. That's voting.

To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.

To be social is to be forgiving.

Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Two such as you with such a master speed, cannot be parted nor be swept away, from one another once you are agreed, that life is only life forevermore, together wing to wing and oar to oar.

We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.

What is this talked-of mystery of birth. But being mounted bareback on the earth?

Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.

You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.

You can be a rank insider as well as a rank outsider.

You don't have to deserve your mother's love. You have to deserve your father's.

You have freedom when you're easy in your harness.