Members of the audience express their views on 'Success', staged in Chennai as part of The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest.
One of a kind
‘Success', staged as part of The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest, provided a peek at the world of a man who pays the price of success. It portrayed his race for survival amid a tumultuous personal life, marked by seven phone calls and three visitors. The true essence of success in life was candidly dealt with. From splendid individual execution, witty humour to impressive dialogue delivery, it had the audience chuckling continuously. Though it commenced a bit monotonously, the latter part showed the cast displaying commendable theatrical skills.
If success equals happiness, then Rick Sterling (John Kishline) was a happy man. Having started an advertising company and developing it into a major force, he has it all — money, fame, recognition. Though his personal life seems in disarray, with a wife he must meet by appointment, and a son who has been rusticated from college, he should otherwise consider himself lucky.
But the problem is he is not truly happy.
We hear only his side of conversations over the telephone, and piece together the quandary he is in. Carrying the play single-handedly, with able support from his small cast, John hints at the all-important, existential question — the meaning of it all.
The Theatre MXT-produced play ‘Success' was a bit of a disappointment. It follows a day in the life of the outwardly “successful” adman Rick Sterling. In the course of the day, we meet a lawyer friend, an Egyptian client and an employee who wants a promotion. I found the play less gripping than I had hoped it would be. The script had nice moments, but most of the time, it didn't hold my attention. A large part of the narrative involved phone calls between Rick and various offstage characters. The one-sided nature of this dialogue put the onus on the actor to convincingly portray the mood. The monologue sounded stilted and the body language often didn't match. The parrying between the woman presidential candidate from Egypt, Aliya Nagir, and Rick was one of the more memorable scenes.
The play had a strong script. The props were elegant and the stage beautifully utilised. Though the casting and performance were top-notch, unfortunately the play was devoid of humour. It tended to lose momentum in some parts, and at other times there was a disconnect with the audience. The authenticity was never compromised; we could empathise with the characters such as the determined Egyptian and the ambitious Indian woman's feelings and aspirations. Though the script and dialogues could have been more interesting, ‘Success' comes through as a thought-provoking, avant-garde production.
S. Siddharth Samson
Peppered with cliches
What could be the definition of ‘success' in the psyche of a high-flying advertising honcho who has already scaled the pinnacle of glory? When does success metamorphose from a genuine aspiration into an incurable malady?
These are a few questions the American play ‘Success', directed by Edward Morgan, attempts to explore. The central character Rick Sterling is depicted as a contemplative, conceited, canny advertising executive. Through conversations, peppered with corporate clichés and diplomatese, phone calls illustrating tumult in his personal life and some bleary navel-gazing, it helps the viewer develop an understanding of his personality. Does he want to explore uncharted waters by helping an Egyptian Social Democrat? A tricky question as he would risk antagonising the U.S. President whose success story he has already drafted. Would he deign to promote his ambitious Indian executive? What about his personal life?
Just when the viewer is getting involved in these questions, the play fizzles out abruptly, leaving us lost in the confines of Rick's corporate boardroom.
Striking a chord
John Kishline's ‘Success', staged by Theatre MXT, opened with the central character, Rick Sterling, heading a leading advertising firm that helped elect the President, fielding calls from his wife, his son and several others of official importance. He is interrupted only by three visitors — a presidential candidate from Egypt, his partner and long-time friend who's made some bad decisions and an ambitious colleague, waiting for her break. In the process, there are several questions asked… about success. About what it takes to get there. About what we would do to get there. Is it the fire in your eyes or the eyes that have gone cold that ultimately lead you to the top? Is it fun but doesn't it also take another part of your life away from you?
With its minimalist corporate backdrop and the phone calls that never end, 'Success' showcased consistent performances from the cast and redefined luck, hope, passion and ambition. It struck a chord with the part of us that constantly wants more and is one with the fast growing and power-hungry world of today. Especially since India has long since joined this rat race.
“What does it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his own soul?” the Bible asks us. ‘Success' examines the price we pay for the trappings of the material world. John Kishline pulls off a brilliant performance in a play he scripted himself. He brings his keen ear for dialogue and his scintillating wit to bear on the concept of success; what constitutes it; what sacrifices we make to achieve it. In “Wall Street”, Gordon Gecko tells us that “greed is good”, a cinematic move that prefigures Don Draper's rise to success in the extremely well-received HBO series ‘Mad Men'. Kishline's Rick Sterling fills in the gaps, bringing us a portrait of success that fits between Draper's ambition born of necessity and Gecko's grasping avarice. Greed and success are different beasts; success is a nobler ideal that “follows intention” and requires a certain “fire in one's eyes”. “It's all in the timing”, Sterling reminds us in the play .Success boasts a script that knows just when to break the monotony of the incessant phone conversations (read: life-killing, soul-sucking politicking) that are a prerequisite to success, with flashes of brilliant humour that astutely reflect the human condition. All told, a brilliantly crafted and well-executed play that could prove the pièce de résistance of The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest.
T. P. Kurian
First written in 1991, ‘Success' is a play that has embraced its evolution over two decades by continuing to stay relevant and refreshingly insightful. A strong performance from the cast, with Edward Morgan at the helm, went hand-in-hand with the sharp contours of the minimalist props on stage. The simplistic beauty of a modern office accentuates the contrasting perspectives presented in the storyline. As Kriti Pant, the only Indian actor in the cast of four, aptly put it, rehearsing via skype forced the actors to concentrate more on creativity, something that works favourably for them. Brief melodies break the monotony of the one-sided phone conversations. However, the viewer with a yearning for the dramatic might find his appetite unsatiated. For the rest, the mellow tone of the play coupled with the introspective ending gives the same feeling as a cup of tea after a particularly long day at the office.
Taut and edgy
A meeting with his lawyer gets the protagonist Rick Sterling, an ad man, thinking about what success means to him. The middle of the play brings in a conflict in the form of an Egyptian lady running for president in her country and who wants to hire Rick to handle her portfolio. Rick is in a moral dilemma — whether to keep pressing on with pursuing success by taking on more risks or to be content with whatever he has achieved. The next meeting he has with one of his young employees who comes asking for more work, money and opportunity, helps him make up his mind. John Kishline brought out the quiet desperation of a man whose life has been defined only by his success. The other actors supported him ably and helped keep the tautness throughout. The actors seated behind the acting area waiting to meet Rick, the continuous phone calls, the transitions between meetings where Rick finds his personal life crumbling about him, all added to the edginess of the play. A feeling of claustrophobia was successfully conveyed, but it was very smoothly done.
‘Success' by Theatre MXT left a lot to be desired. Though some of the dialogues were interesting, one had to make a conscious effort to pay attention to the monologues over the phone. The hanging frames that were part of the set did nothing to add to the play. Overall, the play did not really ‘succeed' in keeping the crowd engrossed.