A look at some of the plays presented at the recently concluded Delhi Natya Utsav.

A pioneer of the modern theatre movement in North India, Raj Bisaria is a highly revered stage director. A former professor of English literature at Lucknow University, he has a thorough grounding in western classics and contemporary dramatic works. His productions are remarkable for brilliant artistry and contemporary relevance. Honoured with the Padma Shri, the Lucknow-based director received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 2004 for his contribution to Indian theatre. It is no wonder if his latest production of “Sukrat Nange Paon” featured on the concluding day at Delhi Natyotsav organised by the Delhi Government’s Sahitya Kala Parishad at Shri Ram Centre recently evoked tremendous response from the audience. Severely indicting autocracy, the production celebrates democratic values. The play was presented by Taw, Lucknow.

Translated into Hindi by Veda Rakesh from James Maxwell Enderson’s “Barefoot in Athens”, “Sukrat Nange Paon” deals with the final phase in the life of Socrates and his trial. The production is neat, and the stage compositions and movements of the performers reflect a theatrical piece produced after thorough rehearsals. Using minimal props and subtle lighting, the right mood is created to provide insights into the Socratic method to evolve a political philosophy and ethics through the process of dialectic.

We watch the impoverished family of Socrates which is worried with the news of allegations against Socrates for corrupting the youth. Comes the news of Athens’ defeat at the hands of the Spartans. Sparta’s king is in Athens ruling it through his puppets. Socrates is in prison now with the rulers determined to give him the death penalty. In fact, he has been telling the young people to examine the prevailing values critically through polemics. The court scene is enacted effectively, establishing a direct rapport with the audience, highlighting with dramatic force the universal relevance of democratic principles and freedom to challenge conventional ethical values.

A finely crafted production, it is aptly cast. Leading theatre personality of Lucknow, Suryamohan Kulshrestha, in the title role of Socrates brings to the fore the unflinching political and ethical convictions of his character. Maintaining serenity like a saint in the face of the death sentence, his Socrates asserts the right of humanity to pursue the path of truth. He loves his country but his commitment to challenge conventional values is much stronger. He refuses the offer of the king of the Spartans to smuggle him out of Athens to avoid the death penalty. Maridula Bhardwaj as Xantippe, the wife of Socrates, is a worried housewife who has to confront hardships. Initially her Xantippe tends to be a nagging wife but gradually she rises to the occasion and she expresses her faith in the glorious ideology of her husband and his martyrdom to the cause of truth.

“Abducting Diana” by Dario Fo, internationally renowned Italian satirist, playwright, actor and director, presented by Yatrik at the Natyotsav under the direction of Avijit Dutt, offered a hilarious experience. Exposing media exploitation, the play opens with a young woman, claiming to be an actress playing the role of a media magnate, instructing a clumsy young man to kidnap her for ulterior motives. Another twist takes place. She is kidnapped by three kidnappers. The woman claiming to be an actress is forced to reveal her identity. It turns out that she herself is Diana. Through the interactions between the kidnapped and the kidnappers a number of awkward situations take place which are hilariously funny. Because of her cunning maneuvering, the kidnapped becomes the boss, the foolish kidnappers find themselves trapped. Employing the elements of Italian commedia dell’arte like the use of masks and exploiting the utter ignorance of kidnappers about their profession, Dutt has created a satirical theatrical piece that makes entertaining viewing.

A fine actor and director who acts on the English, Hindi and Bengali stage with equal felicity, Avijit Dutt plays the role of a gun-toting priest. His stage presence is impressive and his delivery distinct for its clarity and dramatic force. His entry reinforces the element of suspense. Kriti Vij as Diana and Vaani Vyas as the mother of Diana perform admirably as comic actors.

Written by Robert Riddle, “Love in a Time of Oppression” was presented by Ruchika at the Natyotsav. Against the backdrop of World War II which witnessed the genocide of Jews perpetrated by the Nazis, a true love blossoms between a girl and a young Jew. Historical hostile forces separate them but they do not forget one another. The young man manages to flee from Nazi tyranny to America with the help of the girl, who, at great personal risk, implements a clandestine plan for the sake of her love.

Nearly after 60 years they meet. The cloud of hatred and violence has disappeared. People are breathing in the fresh air of freedom. The girl has now become a widowed woman with two grown children. Her lover, an old man settled in America, proposes marriage. The woman’s love for him is deep but her attachment to the place she lived in all her life is much deeper.

Directed by Feisal Alkazi, the production captures the sombre mood which enables the performers to reveal their inner conflict in the time of oppression. The director’s artistry is restrained and subtle, offering the audience intensely felt moments of fear, anxiety, uncertainty and anguish.

Uma Katju as Magda, the young woman, Radhika Alkazi as the older Magda and Sanjiv Desai as the aged Joseph create portraits of lovers illustrating the nobility of human love.