Sagara Kanyaka, like most of Henrik Ibsen's works, attempts to expose what lies behind the façade of much we call our own. It was one of the plays staged at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav, curated by the National School of Drama. The festival will be on till January 20

To Bach's ‘Air on the G String', we arrive at the sea shore. Where Ibsen had first brought us, in 1888, to meet The Lady from the Sea. The Abhinaya Theatre Research Centre, Kerala, brings us here again.

Sagara Kanyaka was a play that attempted to fully exploit the technical possibilities of a 21st Century stage. Four expansive screens that filled with light, with the possibilities of dreams; lighting that converted the stage to part-chimera, part-reality; sounds of the sea crashing seductively in the background, as sea gulls swoop and call.

The play, like most of Ibsen's works, attempts to expose what lies behind the façade of much we call our own. A stranger from a woman's (Parvathi T.) past has returned to her, is asking her to go away with him. Her husband (D. Reghoothaman), is broken. Yet, he chooses the only thing he can do with complete authenticity — allow the decision to be hers, and hers alone.

Directed by Jyothish M.G., the play, evocatively scripted in Malayalam, was as much about human will as it was about the fragile ties that bind us all. Placing characters behind glass cages of powerlessness, he explores how little, if at all, we know of each other.

When the woman first awakens to the knowledge that the man who once wedded them both to the sea has returned, she also awakens to the violence of vision, of gaze. Three eyes, “like the eyes of a dead fish”, that speak to her through the voices of dreams, unblinking, unrelenting. The stranger will not let her go.

The woman, tormented by him, is also suffocating in the relationship with her husband. On the screen, faceless figures buried waist-deep in the desert, wrists imprisoned in the rough sand. Her husband is everything she rebels against — the sea calls out to her, from where the aquamarine dreams come.

While images of fantastic, illusive landscapes move across the screen, it is the woman's mundane, everyday questions that are most difficult to answer. “But I am here. And I have been here. Am I not yours?” she asks her husband, a man debilitated by grief.

Both knowing the answer, she finally admits, “Deep in my veins, in my memories, that ship has dug its trenches…When the wind favours, he will cast his sail, and course through my blood with the oars.” Throughout the play, the audience is watched as well, by the three dispassionate eyes. (Pratheesh R.P., Shameer, Fawaz, Jojo, Navad). In the end, the woman chooses not to leave with the stranger.

We remember Rilke: “Once the realisation is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist… if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

But what we end up with is a performance that ends up overstating itself. By reining in the script, and avoiding the constant artillery of direct metaphors, much more could have been said, and with less. With subtlety, the play could have grown into much more, much like the way a tide rises imperceptibly, but incontestably, majestically.

The plays are held at Sir Mutha Venkata Subba Rao Concert Hall and Museum Theatre. For details call, 98946 09061