‘A Woman Alone', featuring stories by Dario Fo, threw the spotlight on life, as it is

‘A Woman Alone's greatest strength was that it didn't descend into a self-indulgent tear-jerker. Produced for ANEW (Association for Non-Traditional Employment for Women) and slated as an ‘evening of laughter and poignancy', it could so easily have been made into a bathos fest.

Director Mithran Devanesan had other ideas. He chose to divide the evening into three short bustling plays, providing a range of characters, sets and stories over the one-and-a-half hours that the production spanned.

Short plays have obvious advantages. They're perfect for short attention spans, mixed audiences and conveying a bundle of ideas. Devanesan chose a set of three from the same playwright, Dario Fo, an Italian satirist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997.

Fo's work is especially appropriate for our times as it showcases throbbing sorrow by displaying it under a veneer of cheery normalcy. Anyone who's ever had to deal with situations, or indeed life, by pretending all is well can relate to the chilling title play, ‘A Woman Alone', in which Indrani Krishnaier irons laundry in time to Abba, as she tells a neighbour about the true horror of her seemingly typical life.

Energetic act

The role is exhausting, requiring Krishnaier to conduct a perky conversation with an imaginary neighbour, while juggling various facets of her life — a lovelorn college-student obsessed with her, a lecherous brother-in-law in a body cast and a ruthlessly controlling husband.

Yet, she executed it with unflagging energy and honesty carrying the unquestioning audience along. Fiercely strong and heartbreakingly vulnerable in turn, Krishnaier stumbled occasionally, tripping over her words, but so entrenched in character that these lapses were easy to forgive.

In deference to playwright Fo perhaps, Mithran chose to make the productions more colourfully theatrical than grittily realistic.

This was evident even in the deliberately choreographed changing of scenes, usually just dispensed with as an annoying necessity. The busily-cluttered stage of ‘Rise And Shine' gave way to the starkness of Medea very deliberately as stage hands slowly twirled chairs, shifted props and moved curtains.

Exaggerated movement

Nikhila Kesavan's solo piece, ‘Rise And Shine', used deliberately-exaggerated movement, making the most of her barely-contained restless energy to capture the audience's imaginations.

Her lively piece, like a piece of choreography, burst with lights, ceaseless chatter and the haphazard flotsam of a tired middle-class home.

Silence and darkness, in contrast, were used to punctuate ‘Medea'. However, despite being intricately designed, with a raucous, yet fluid, chorus, it didn't have the impact of the other two, perhaps because the actress playing Medea was too calm, and too composed to be believable. Especially in comparison to the productions' other two subtly-frenzied leads.

The stories, despite being written by Fo in the early 1990s, were all very contemporary, thanks to careful editing.

Well, editing and the undeniable fact that even decades later, women-centric issues such as the exhausting juggling of work and home, husbands and in-laws, love and separation remain the same.