You're familiar with that sinking feeling, of course. It happens often enough. “When you're in the theatre about half-an-hour into a really pathetic play? That sense of utter disappointment?”
“A Play About Death”, staged by Masquerade Youth Theatre at Alliance Française this weekend, opened by blithely thumbing its nose at the audience, with lead actor Zerxes Irani (playing Peter, the Playwright) stating: “Well, let me save you the half-hour. This is one of those plays.”
Written by Thomas Manuel and Visvak Reddy, the script was fresh, slick and sassy.
Fortunately, it found its way into the hands of director Harish Aditya, who translated it into a play, despite a tight budget and all the constraints that come with producing amateur theatre.
Experimental theatre tends to be self-indulgent, endlessly delighting in its own cleverness. While the cast did fall into this trap occasionally, on the whole, the play was a spirited romp through cult philosophy and pop culture.
The ‘story' opens with Peter who, in a monologue amplified by fluent body language, decides to break away from the script, and thus redeem this “completely inane Kolkata Knight Riders-esque excuse of a play”. He, like the rest of us, has had enough of the absurdist theatre revival.
Yet, the rules of theatre must be adhered to. Wandering off stage, he creates a vacuum that sucks in the pseudo-gangster Ralph, played by Nakul Jayadevan, who takes idiosyncrasies from unexpected sources — think Austin Powers' Dr. Evil to Frodo ( “The Lord Of The Rings”) — to create an endearingly rounded character. There's lanky Rahul Ramesh, playing Gordo, (a role shared with Vaidhya M. Sundar), cornering a number of the laughs despite his low-key, straight-man role. And finally, Syed Muzamil Madani, a plant in the audience, who hobbles on and off glowering like a modern-day Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Despite its apparent disdain for existentialism, there are plenty of tributes to the likes of Pinter and Beckett. The most obvious being the ‘Waiting For Godot' theme, alluded to repeatedly. Add shades of everything Woody Allen, Edward Albee and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. After all, as Marie Antoinette said: “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.” Or, reinvented.
With “A Play About Death”, the cast spins a feisty new tale, while paying homage to all that's gone before. It's refreshing, funny and — thank heavens — unpretentious. Keep an eye on this group.
Keywords: Alliance Française