"Citizen Josh" captures an individual’s awakening to political activism through humour.
Josh Kornbluth kept humour close to heart, yet drove in striking points when “Citizen Josh” — a Jonathan Reinis production — was staged recently.
An autobiographical monologue on democracy and political activism can be a tough act and could slip to didacticism effortlessly. But Kornbluth strings together random episodes from his life, makes no pretence of his gullibility and by mocking himself paints his initiation to activism.
The play, directed by David Dower, might well be about an individual’s participation in democracy, but what stayed on after the 90-minute show was a couple of pages from Kornbluth’s life. In a system ruled and pulled down by “experts”, Kornbluth showed effectively their limitations through an intense and emotional chapter from his life. His father’s “Quixotic” act of taking Kornbluth’s prematurely born brother out of the incubator to hold him for a few moments much against the expert doctor’s advice, as he realised all the baby needed was the human touch, was acted out with heart.
Civility in democracy
With a minimalist set — a projector flashing pictures, a book rack, an American flag and a round table — the stage was all Kornbluth’s. Though the narrative flowed on smoothly, the limitations of a solo act were obvious at places, as Kornbluth ended up attributing the same gestures to a couple of characters. Civility as a perishing virtue in a democracy, where harangue has replaced dialogue, was brought out with self-deprecating humour.
A belated thesis for Princeton is the spark that led to “Citizen Josh.” A clean narrative, it never veers to the acerbic. Even while making pointed remarks at the former U.S. President George W. Bush, Kornbluth refrains from taking his name. Frustration at the election process of 2004 also played a pivotal role in awakening the citizen in Kornbluth, prompting him to action beyond casting votes. “Also, it deals with my realisation that — as neurotic and passive as I am — I’m still qualified to be a citizen, so long as I act,” he says.
On his first tour of India, Kornbluth has tried to bring in local elements to his presentation. If during the MetroPlus Theatre Fest at Chennai, he began with Kannagi’s tale, in Delhi he chose to take off with the painting of Rani Laxmibai in his hotel room. “This is the first time I am ever performing in a habitat,” he punned on performing at The India Habitat Centre.
Autobiographical monologues are a form Kornbluth has been identified with for the past 20 years. “I love the relationship of speaking directly to the audience — I find it quite comfortable and intimate, believe it or not!,” says Kornbluth. On a lighter note, he says, “It’s also very easy for me to gather the cast together!”
But he is also well aware of the handicaps of solo shows. “A drawback: because of the severe limitation of having only one performer on stage, there are limits of course to the spectacle and complexity my director and I can create on the stage,” he adds. Banking on humour to pass on a message has its impact. “Humour can be disarming,” he says.
“Citizen Josh” too sought to deal with a heavy subject with a touch of humour, and Kornbluth succeeded to a large extent.