Monday, August 20, 2007

19 August 2007: Going to the Theater

In the afternoon, I took a taxi to JP Nagar to the Ranga Shankara Theater to see play a suggested by a friend, Shakuntala, produced and created by Little Jasmine. Because Gedalahalli is quite far from JP Nagar (about 20km), Rethy arranged for a taxi to take me there and wait to bring me back. JP Nagar seems to be ground zero for the IT boom: Adobe, IBM, Oracle, Accenture, and Trilogy among many others, all stand in sparkling new buildings, with construction going on everywhere in sight. Ranga Shankara is a really great space, which kind of reminded me of LA’s Redcat in size and orientation, with a cute outdoor cafĂ© (where I enjoyed a lychee juice) and small bookstore. Despite being a Sunday matinee, perhaps 150 people turned out to see the play, which included live guitar by the talented Konarek Reddy, kalari payattu by Anmol Mothi, video by Little Jasmine Films, and performance by Kirtana Kumar, who also directed the piece. This production retells the Shakuntala story of (from the program) “the hunter-King Dushyantha who falls in love with a girl in the forest – Shakuntala, and then…forgets his love. This was our starting point. Memory. It’s (sic) loss thereof. The departure of righteousness…” The play opens with wailing electric guitar and dates flashing on a screen: September 11, 2001. August 6, 1945. (etc.) Right from the beginning, the video was frustrating due to set pieces (large strips of paper and fabric) hanging down in front of the screen which prevented the video from being fully seen, which robbed it of its potential impact. Kumar’s opening monologue plays with the themes established in the program, suggesting the necessity of memory, but also of forgetting. Kumar switched back and forth among different roles, including that of Shakuntala. Mothi portrayed Dushyanta, employing kalari payattu to depict the King’s prowess as a hunter, lover, and ruler. Though I know nothing about this martial art form, Mothi did not grab me as a performer, though he does seem quite skilled. In fact, it was only Reddy who drew me in through his music and occasional speaking roles. The play seemed to want to say important things about gender and contemporary politics, but did not quite succeed. A video in the middle depicting Shakuntala’s journey from the forest to the palace to look for her missing lover looked like it was probably interesting, but again, the set pieces interfered with being able to clearly see the projection. I made out an image here or there (a contemporary young woman setting out with a trekking backpack), but was frustrated more than illuminated by the video. The culminating fight scene between Dushyantha and Shakuntala felt, well, staged. The passion that drove the creators of the piece, and the emotion felt by the performers was not transferred to the audience, and the lukewarm applause at the conclusion showed that I was not the only one who felt that way. Still I was very glad to have gone.

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