Theatre ‘True West’, a production of the Bangalore-based theatre group Gnatak, will be staged in Thiruvananthapuram on October 31
English plays are not a common scene in the capital city. However, one troupe that has intermittently kept its date with the city is the Bangalore-based Gnatak. The troupe returns to participate in the three-day eighth Ajayan Memorial Theatre Festival, which begins on October 29 at Vyloppilly Samskrithi Bhavan. The team stages Sam Shepard’s ‘True West’ on October 31 at 7 p.m.
“It has got a universal theme though the story is set in the United States. The relationships, the emotions and feelings are the same all over. That is a reason why we haven’t changed the original script at all,” says Prakash Aswani, director of the play. The play is about the duality in all of us. Through the play the author ‘takes a long, hard look at America’. It is about two estranged brothers, Austin and Lee, who are very different from each other. While Austin, a flourishing Hollywood scriptwriter, leads an orderly life, Lee is the black sheep of the family. They meet after a long gap only to end up fighting. But situations change and they end up in each other’s shoes!
“It says about how different and how similar we are from each other at the same time,” says Prakash. All the nine scenes take place on the same set, in the kitchen of a home in a Southern California suburb.
Essaying the role of the brothers are two Malayalis, both hailing from Kanjirappally, who have had a long experience in theatre – K.T.Abraham as Austin and Michael Joseph as Lee. “It’s an actor’s dream to get such a rounded character,” says Michael, an alumni of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), and former head, Department of Independent Media, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore.
Abraham, who runs a business in the city, got into theatre while living in Bangalore. He has worked as actor, director, lighting technician and stage hand in numerous productions, including plays by Kavalam Narayana Panikker’s troupe, Sopanam.
“Bangalore has a fertile ambience for theatre. When I came down to Thiruvananthapuram some 20 years ago and got associated with Sopanam, it opened up an entirely different milieu. But I understood that there is a space for every form of art,” Abraham says.
Talking about the drought of English plays in Thiruvananthapuram, he says: “It has much to do with sponsorships and lack of proper infrastructure. In fact, a lot of groups in Bangalore are ready to perform in the city.”
‘True West’ has Rohit Dave and Anuradha Abraham in the cast. Gnatak had earlier staged its productions ‘Art’ (at Russian Cultural Centre and the Soorya fete) and ‘Siwze Bansi is Dead’ (Soorya fete).
A group of theatre enthusiasts in Bangalore came together to form Gnatak in 1979. There were engineers, scientists, doctors undergraduates and dropouts in the team. “That was a time when there was a clear division between vernacular theatre and English theatre in Bangalore. To some extent Gnatak could break this divide,” says Abraham, who’s been among the founding members of Gnatak along with Michael. He adds: “The ‘G’ in Gnatak stands for everything good!”
The first production of the group was ‘The Island’ by the South African playwright Athol Fugard. Though by the late 80s many members of the group left Bangalore to finish studies and settle into a job, most of them got together after a gap of 10 years. “Our members are scattered across the world. Gnatak has never had a leader. But we get together as and when possible and come up with the productions. Kudos to people like Prakash, who, inspite of being bound to a wheelchair is so passionate about theatre,” Abraham says.