Saturday, February 5, 2011

Art Attack

It was the season of concerts and public performances, everybody who was somebody seemed busy with the cultural engagements that happened in the wintry nights of January. I decided I had to do justice to my self-anointed tag of a theater enthusiast. So far my exposure was limited to college plays. It was about time to see some professional live performances and be a theater enthusiast who actually went to real theater events. The ongoing National Drama Festival in town seemed the perfect place to start my journey into theatrical bliss.

Isn't there an old world charm in attending plays? It was the ideal, high sounding hobby I wanted on my list of social engagements. With hopes of being enthralled with sensational performances I went in for the first play, a Malayalam adaptation of Ibsen's Lady of the Sea. We, I and hubby dearest, settled into our comfortable seats in the plush auditorium custom made for live performances. Excited, I looked around to see a decent crowd and spotted a few classic shabby kurthas and French beards that brought back memories of my drama master in grad school. Loved the vibe of the place, nothing like being amidst artistically gifted people and pretending like you share their creative talent!

Three bells and a short intro later, the play started. A plump lady in her nightdress and a man in a night gown were my first potential sources of theatrical enlightenment. I waited with baited breath to be enraptured by the power of their performances. Three eyes popping at the woman, who seemed to be in some kind of a dream, made it clear that the play was an expressionist experimentation laden with symbolism. In the minutes that followed, I managed to grasp that the lady was longing for 'something'. Longing to go back to that 'something'. Her husband, our man in the night gown, was pleading her not to go back to that 'something'. But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what that 'something' was!

A series of tortuously slow dialogues revealed that this dilemma of "to go or not to" was doomed to unravel at snails pace. Why does artsy stuff often turn out deliberately devised to test the patience of audience? The only hope left for salvation now seemed a change in the deserted background and the infectiously depressing tones. But that wasn't going to be. Our first play was destined to be this two-hour-long-irritating-rant revolving around "going or not going". Turning around to check the reactions of other viewers confirmed that slipping into a quick nap was the only escape from the tediously slow proceedings on stage. Although we went in with willing impressionable minds, we walked out convinced that the play was inherently insufferable.

"First impressions are not always the best" I consoled my visibly frustrated better half, who I had dragged in promising a delightful intro into world of dramatic art. The art lover in me tried to justify the abstract ideals the director must have intended to project by putting up a play that thrived on making the viewer wait perennially for conclusive answers and leave no clue as to what it was the lady actually wanted to go back to. Was it the lover, as in the original version of the play? I don't think so. It seemed in the adaptation, the directed intended the play to be open ended, leaving the audience draw their own conclusions. So there we were, after a clueless first encounter with the world of dramatic art.

Day 1, Lesson Learnt - Never to go for abstract crap.

Everything deserves a second chance. A careful scanning of the play schedules and I rounded up on a dance drama by an American troop next. "Its firangi, it will definitely be better" screamed the country Indian in me. With renewed vigor I convinced my hubby to not give up on plays solely based on our first encounter. Erasing the memories of the previous night, we settled into our seats in the auditorium a second time. The troop seemed highly acclaimed and exceptionally flexible in twisting and turning their limbs into abstruse angles. But that was just about it. Little did we know that what we were in for was a session of disjointed acrobatics on display. What the Director probably missed out on before embarking on a public performance of the play, was to have a plot that was comprehensible to the public. All right it was a dance recreation, but then it should have had some resemblance to what we associate as dance in the normal world. Headstands and somersaults do not make a play nor can it be passed around as dance! The theater wouldn't have turned as empty as it did if I was the only one who shared these views.

Day 2 Lesson Learnt - International troops come up with trash too.

As much as I wanted to act the theatre buff, I couldn't help the eventual realization that plays are not really my thing. The two professional plays I was subjected to so far were painful to say the least. Yet I wanted to watch a third play to confirm it would be sensible to bid good riddance to a forced interest.

So there we were at our third play. This time in Chinese. As if, not understanding the language would help! I assured my hubby we would leave as soon as the first scene was done, "You see, a third lousy show would be my final sign from the stars that plays were not my forte". As the lights flooded the stage, we saw a flash of silhouettes of the leading characters behind the nine doors with translucent silky curtains. Although the elegant start predicted a brilliant performance, my previous experience had made me a wary viewer.

Set in feudal China, the tale unfolded in a mix of Chinese ballad and modern dramatic narrative. The colourful floating garments and the pleasing oriental music was pure pleasure to our parched senses made numb by the previous sessions of patience tests. As the plot progressed, hair raising performances and hilarious scenes left us in splits of laughter. This one had it all. Undeniably The Amorous Lotus Pan, an adaptation of an ancient Chinese legend, was breathtakingly magnificent from start to finish! Beautiful, aesthetic and heartwarming, it was a passionate tale of love and loss. The divine music, the romantic dance sequences, the mesmerising stage techniques, it was all a revelation. By the end of it all the play had captured the hearts of the audience who rose for a standing ovation as the play drew to a close. Finally a play that revealed to the drama geniuses present, the simple truth behind the mechanics of a heart warming play- A play has to be a PLAY first. And NOT some senseless attempt at sounding intellectual with redundant plots.

Day 3, Lesson Learnt - If you don't know how, go learn from the Chinese!