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Laughter without frills

Masquerade has made a beginning in giving newcomers a chance on stage. ELIZABETH ROY reviews the effort.

``Funny Briefs, Witty Shorts''... from Masquerade - opportunity for amateurs. — Pic. by K. V. Srinivasan.

THEY CALL themselves `Masquerade the performance group' and are an established byline on Chennai's happening scene. And somehow while reviewing, one feels inclined to look at their individual productions against a backdrop of their larger vision and planning and their contribution to theatre in the city. Currently, on their agenda is a project ``Laughter Without Frills," which will dot the next three months.

Masquerade's artistic director, Krishna Kumar (KK), explains, ``We have designed a series of evenings low cost, no frills, focus on script productions that try to bring the inherent intelligence of the scripts themselves leaving the actors to do their job."

The first of the series, captioned ``Funny Briefs, Witty Shorts," opened at the Music Academy Mini Hall. The selection of three short plays from David Ives and one from Alan Ayckbourn lasted just under an hour.

They were scripts with a great deal of potential, surprising the audience as they progressed with new insights and new facets — plays that were meant to move at a fast pace and impact within short space. ``Mother Figure" by Ayckbourn was on for the fourth time, in Chennai from Masquerade, spread over the past five years. The full time job of caring for the children leaves Lucy with little space and no other identity.

The automaton ends up mothering anyone she meets, even if they happen to be the couple next door. Indrani Krishnaier's mother figure was well crafted and rounded. It was a pleasure to see a Lucy who was far more than an extension of Indrani.

Apsara Walia as the wife next door was good as she responded to the therapeutic mother. However, Atindra Sai's Terry lacked both energy and focus and the play sagged, letting the loaded humour sink.

The three plays from Ives — ``Dr. Fritz", ``Arabian Nights" and ``Enigma Variations" offered plenty of room for interpretations and experimentation and directors KK and Sagar took up the challenge.

The results were interesting. The audience confronted multiple levels of reality and quite enjoyed the choreography, particularly in ``Enigma Variations." The concepts were challenging but needed more accuracy and finesse in execution.

Harsha Subramanian did well in both ``Dr. Fritz" and ``Enigma Variations." He has proved to be a pleasing actor who is able to establish a rapport with his audiences. Even more important, he impresses as an actor who does his homework.

There was some impressive performance from Geetanjali Sriram who played Maria/Dr. Fritz and Bebe 2 in ``Enigma Variations."

``Dr. Fritz" kept up a good pace and the timing and energy were right and it would have really taken off if Geetanjali had delineated better, her shifts between Maria and Dr. Fritz. There was also an energetic performance from Vikash Mehrotra in ``Arabian Nights."

In short, everything was right in its own place and yet the evening failed to take off. What perhaps lacked were the energy and the sense of timing that would have brought together the ingredients and the effort on stage.

One also missed the build-up into crescendos. Perhaps the group underestimated the difficulty of doing fast-paced comedy.

Lines don't hold water without timing, pace and climbing or reverse energy. On the opening evening the parts merely added up instead of building on synergy.

The second evening one hears was more energised. This criticism could be seen against Masquerade's commitment to giving newcomers their chance on stage (who are often later successfully picked up by other groups) and their commitment to raising funds to make possible NATAK 2002, the only platform in Chennai where college students get an opportunity to taste and appraise their ability in theatre.

In answer, KK says, ``We don't mind drawing flak. We know the audience is paying. We are committed to the audience. The truth is we are doing amateur theatre with constraints of time and money and a lack of trained actors (in that our actors hold day jobs)." A beginning has been made and Masquerade is confident that given a little time they will successfully work around the few glitches.

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