Metroplus Theatre festival - first week

The Hindu Metroplus Theatre festival is on and I am thoroughly enjoying myself. A quick glance at this year’s line up immediately showed great promise and so far I must say I am not mistaken.

Friday went to watch ‘To the death of her own family’, directed by Peter Rafray and enacted by Farah Bala. It is about Nadeema, an Afghan-American woman being asked to prove her citizenship. She has lost her passport and is being asked to prove her American citizenship. Nadeema however has nothing but a bag full of odds and ends that hold a lifetime of memories, which she uses to tell the story of her life. If you ignored the fact that she could have easily given her Social security number and brought the proceedings to a quick albeit uninteresting end, the play was pretty OK. It told about the suffering of Afghanis under repeated hostile regimes and the general suspicion that has plagued U.S. post 9/11. Though a book like ‘Kite Runner’ would probably give you a better appreciation of the historical sequence of events and culture that is uniquely North Western.

Following this play was the irreverent and hilarious ‘Butter and Mashed Bananas’. The three lead actors romped the stage, enjoying themselves immensely and carried the audiences with them. The trio touched upon various issues like ideology, political leanings, censorship, celebritydom in a cheeky manner (no I will not go so far to call it satirical). Using a tub, a small drum, anklets and a dhoti as props, they interspersed the narrative with energetic Bharatnatyam steps, random drunken dancing moves and occasionally stopped to break into a song that memorably rhymed ‘Chuth’ with ‘Truth’.

Sunday, watched three plays by Sinhala troupes. The first one was fine ‘Last Bus’, though a bit Kollywoody. In a singsong Sinhala voice, the sole actor convincingly told the story of a man falling into the depths of despair, as he hates the very system to which he has become addicted. The second play ‘24 hrs’ was told in a format called ‘Verbatim theatre’ which involves reading out factual pieces. This play focused on incidents that happened on August 14th in Sri Lanka. For some strange reason, the troupe decided to infuse life into the proceedings by having actors dance on wooden boxes with broomsticks in the first part. Then they pointlessly moved all the wooden boxes for the next scene, which was no less bizarre than the previous. I realised that they were trying to enact in a dance drama form the newspaper stories being narrated behind them. The final segment was not just bizarre but also macabre. Two actors dressed as kids went about systematically maiming a bunch of dolls. The story accompanying this was about the bombing of a girl’s school, which the Sri Lankan govt claimed, was a Tiger training camp and the LTTE claimed was an orphanage. Still, dramatic is different from macabre and using the dolls left the audience cold instead of sympathetic.

The third play was by far the biggest success of the evening. Forum theatre is an interesting form where the actors enact a story till it reaches a checkpoint. After that audience inputs are taken to see what should be the next step to resolve the crisis. Within the framework of their characters, the actors enact the scene suggested by the audience till the crisis is resolved. The Chennai audience did not mess up things and instead nudged it to a logical end. To add to the extempore feel of things, a member of the audience volunteered to play one of the characters (and going by the way he suddenly came up with unrelated but important points, he was definitely not planted).

So far, so good.

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