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Very well scripted

Celebrating World Theatre Day, Krishna Kumar and Masquerade organised a week of plays recently. "Doctoritis" was brilliant, lauds ELIZABETH ROY.

" Doctoritis " ... every character had a plum role to play. — Pic. by S. Thanthoni.

THURSDAY LAST, March 27, was World Theatre Day. This year, in Chennai, Krishna Kumar (KK) and Masquerade took on the responsibility of celebrating it and organised a week of performances round the `day', at the Alliance Francaise. The event, one hopes, has kicked off a new trend in Chennai. Our English theatre (and we have no professional companies) performs under constraints of funds, time, manpower and social apathy, and on a lucky venture they at best manage four shows. Performances running into at least weeks would justify the kind of money that goes into productions these days. It would give actors a chance to become seasoned and gain ground.

KK is one of Chennai's better-read directors and no one can fault him his choice of scripts. "Doctoritis" is an evening of three brilliant one-act plays by John Patrick — "The Chiropodist", "The Physician", and "The Gynaecologist" — all three deal with doctors, nurses and patients, every one of them uniquely quirky.

The Chiropodist (Krishna) is "over-drawn, over-wrought and over-sexed" and spends his working time chasing his nurse (Shweta Ravishankar) who orchestrates a "get the doctor" plan. Gloria (Pavitra Nagaraj) and Masters (Ramana Siddharth) posing as patients come on to him till he throws up his arms in anguish.

The Physician (Mihir Mysore) is a hypochondriac who needs reassurance from his nurse (Alaphia Zoyab) and completely loses his head when he finds out that his patient (Madan Menon) is actually a doctor, who could check him out for any malfunctioning of the system. That he is a veterinarian doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

The Gynaecologist (Freddie Koikaran) on the other hand is humane and kind and cracks crossword puzzles with help (entirely) from his nurse (Rashmi Balakrishnan). He is very fond of all his pregnant patients and when a hugely pregnant Dilly Dolly (Shakila Arun) ambles in, the doctor and his nurse are forced to get involved in her predicament. Dilly Dolly, to the best of her knowledge, has not `known' a man. If she is pregnant, it could be because she was stuck in an elevator with a wine salesman named Butch (Samanth Subramaniam). They got rather drunk and intimate. It was dark, she put her hand out for the bottle and her finger landed in Butch's mouth. And then she fell asleep and never saw Butch again. Could she be pregnant? Not really. Her mother was obese and made a living with the circus by just sitting there for the audience. They were great scripts, well put together and very funny. They drew their strength from language, play on phrases, sentence structure and very sophisticated manipulation of timing and pauses. In that sense they were also very difficult scripts with every character a plum role. They were made up of everyday little things exaggerated in order to make them more real.

The evening I caught up with "Doctoritis", KK informed me, was a particularly unfortunate show. "The Chiropodist" and "The Physician" did not quite take-off. The timing and the pauses went completely out of control and as a result there was a breakdown of communication. The sophistication and the nuance of the language were missing. "The Gynaecologist", however, made up for whatever went wrong earlier. The cast did a great job. Samanth Subramaniam, although only briefly on stage, impressed. The treat of the evening came from Freddie Koikaran and Shakila Arun. For years now Chennai has enjoyed their teamwork, their ability to hold the audience and the quality of their performance, their understanding of the script and their sense of timing.

KK said that with "Doctoritis" he was trying out a few new ideas. He wants to make low cost productions the norm. In this particular case the evening required only a consulting room with minor changes in the positioning of furniture. It was not only functional but connected the three plays. He has earmarked the gate collection such that it went as an honorarium to the team, the director and to Masquerade. He wanted emphasis on pre-show publicity that would bring in his audience rather than reviews, "for this one, excluding Shweta, Shakila, Freddie and Madan, everyone was making their debut in mainstream (theatre)."

While giving newcomers opportunities to learn and gain from experience is necessary and laudable, one wonders whether it is necessary to try and get them to cut their teeth on sophisticated comedy with all its demands.

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