Used to the aggressive, gut wrenchingly funny monologues about American politics, I was at first disconcerted by the passive yet intellectual and often emotional arguments presented by ‘Citizen Josh’. The ideas and counter ideas came hard and fast at first, and the monologue as a long overdue thesis idea was ingenious, but soon it seemed like a watered down version of what is a great political and personal journey. Politics is funnier when it is not politically correct. All said, there were sparks of brilliance, the examples given were great, some moments were poignant and thought provoking, especially the point about acting like Hazel, the woman seen heckling the lone teenager who defied segregation in the famous photograph from Little Rock, Arkansas. An inspiring quixotic journey, white-washed into a correct, clean but thankfully a little thought-provoking piece of art.
Lack of perspective
‘Citizen Josh’ is rife with interesting moments: there are moments of startling clarity that are surprisingly insightful; there are moments of genial good humour that provide bursts of relief and familiarity; there are moments of blunt straightforwardness that lull you into a warm sort of intimacy with the artiste on stage; most importantly, there are moments of poignancy that give you reassurance and disquiet simultaneously. Unfortunately, when all these little moments come together, the result falls painfully short of the expectations set by the individual moments.
Josh Kornbluth describes a college thesis that he undertakes a little late in life. The thesis is the very monologue that the audience watches. Certainly, the thesis is not of an academic bent, but it also provides no framework for any sort of theoretical, informed or intelligent discussion either. Indeed, it does not even seem to be bound coherently by any inclusive thematic concern. Rather, it seems a series of random events loosely interpolated with a smattering of humour thrown in for good measure, but without serving a larger purpose of any sort. The moments of clarity do little to contribute to the overall perspective — if such a perspective exists at all.
Well, it was quite impressive for an American to take Kannagi as an epitome of democracy. Josh presented a wide kaleidoscope of issues related to America. It was a wonderful, heart warming and hilarious narration of childhood tales.
It had a radical outlook and a very beautifully woven script that highlights tolerance, juxtaposing important incidents of the protagonist’s life, such as the apartheid strike. It would have been a little better if at least a few other characters had shared the stage with him.
S. Siddharth Samson
Choolaimedu High Road
Rich in irony
Josh gives a stellar performance, rich with depth and irony, subtle music, power points and sombre lights. Several characters were clichéd and the acting was exaggerated at times. There were moments of brilliance, though. The disconnected elements of the plots didn’t seem contrived and kept us guessing.
The play raises a moral question on whether democracy should be controlled by the so-called experts or explode in unpredictable ways in the hands of the people. The play wanted to challenge us, but it was very light and the finale felt like it came too soon.
Relevant in these times
A well-enacted play where our hero, who is apt in killing time sitting on a green cushion, notices 25 years have passed without him submitting his thesis. He heads us back in time to some important events in the U.S., such as racism and Vietnam. The lighting was excellent, and reflected the mood of Josh wonderfully. The play is very relevant for us in India where we are at the crossroads — we want many of our laws to change, but are we ready?
A passion for togetherness of equals animated every moment of ‘Citizen Josh’. And yet, onstage, Josh expressed hero-worship for his college professor, whose central idea was that original thinkers tend to be replaced by bureaucratic followers. In fact, young people can develop independent and creative selves — if they are nurtured properly.
At one point, onstage Josh declared himself a hero, and wrapped himself in the U.S. flag. This might have seemed contrary to his goal of universal equality, and Josh communicated the irony of the situation. A method by which onstage Josh would achieve civic engagement and liberate himself and all others is public autobiographical storytelling, through which one can establish one’s identity and generate public opinion.
This, in turn, can affect how governments allocate resources.
Josh might consider adjusting the lighting so that he could better see audience members.
While a monologue is antithetical to dialogue, a monologue can also function as an opening statement in a conversation. In sum, a thoughtful and lovable performance.
The monologue of ‘Citizen Josh’ was both compelling and erudite in its content and delivery; speckled liberally with wit. How often does one get to truly enjoy a monologue that is absorbing, entertaining, and loaded with meaning? This was one such rarity.Priya Francis
During the course of the play, I turned into a 10 year old, fidgeting, checking my watch every two minutes or so, and praying for it to end. I watch a play to be told a story, or if it doesn’t tell a story, to be told something interesting, and if it doesn’t do either of those, if it is funny.
‘Citizen Josh’ failed on all counts. It did not tell a story; rather, it told a sketchy, constantly interrupted story about the actor’s senior thesis and meeting with Al Gore.
It did not say anything meaningful or even remotely interesting about democracy, politics, or even global warming for that matter.
Lastly, it was not funny. The monologue was a bunch of disjointed anecdotes, punctuated by exaggerated actions and a lot of yelling, that probably would have been mildly funny over a beer for about five minutes. To be subjected to 75 minutes of it was unbelievably painful.
Pleasurable but manipulative
First, there was the word…Storytelling, the earliest form of theatre, since Thespis and Solon pushed their wheelbarrows laden with masks and prosternedas away from the theatre of rituals. ‘Citizen Josh’ told us a story about the liberating power of democracy, how all citizens can persist towards having identical right of entry to power, freedoms and liberties.
He told the story with a sensitivity that was genuinely evoked from personal encounters... It was pleasurable but manipulative in parts. The audience laughing at the conventional and the unfunny was disconcerting at the onset but later suggested pathos at a society which has no genuine incentive left to exercise its emotions. The play staged on the eve of Independence day did evoke, but not provoke.
More like a reading
John Kornbluth attempts to tickle your ribs mocking American democracy. ‘Citizen Josh’ places on balance the many misgivings, fastidiousness and emptiness of leftism in the U.S. But, the problem with the play is that though there was ample scope to translate it into an act with many players, it meanders rather lonely as just a reading rendition with some slapstick.
Choolaimedu High Road
From the moment he used the story of Kannagi to connect to Indian democracy, I liked Josh Kornbluth. This is a guy who looks for unlikely symbols — the rusted old sculpture in a children’s playground that starts off as insignificant junk, becomes at various times through the play a symbol of reconciliation, of hope, of a resistance, and of democracy.
And, while delivering his message, Josh is not an activist, not an expert, but a passive, uncertain, sometimes mistaken, guy who has the honesty to identify himself not with the heroes of the civil rights movement, but with ‘Hazel’, a symbol of intolerance in his story.
The characters in the play — from his dramatic political analyst friend, his ‘quixotic’ father, the wonderful-smelling senator, ‘Hell’-ga who hates the sound of children, the assortment of quirky neighbours, to Josh himself — all came alive in a simple and beautiful way.