Dhanushkodi and Vishalam Ekambaram ... excellent performance Pic. by N. Sridharan.
LINE DRAWINGS, black on white, accompanied you up the old stairway to the hall on the first floor of Sundar Mahal. There were white plastic chairs arranged in neat rows. A projection screen framed the door in the centre.
All around hung more drawings of S. G. Vasudev. They have always had the power to disturb you into thought Maithuna, Tree of Life and Death, He and She, Theatre of Life...
This was the setting for two short plays by the Madras Players Theatre Club on the last two days of the exhibition of Vasudev's drawings. ``The Open Couple" by Dario Fo and Franca Rame, as the title suggests, discussed the openness in the relationship between a husband and wife, who also play the role while rehearsing for the final production in life and theatre, in other words. The script attempts to define commitment and relationship and the concept of freedom within relationships. The man respects and values friendship with his wife, and, therefore, believes that it is acceptable for him to pursue other women and sexual involvements. The woman attempts at suicide or stages attempts. He desperately dissuades her. She then declares her disaster management strategy, which includes `extra' relationships that sustain her. This causes equations to change dramatically in the man's life.
Director Bhagirathi Narayanan cast two of her seasoned young actors in the roles. They brought to the acting space high levels of energy, the post-modern complexity and the attitudes that explain it. Production design had the actors coming into the audience in intimate interaction, which immediately brought the audience and the actors into empathy.
The second short play, ``LOST," by Mary Louise Wilson looked at an aging couple. He and she live comfortably committed to each other. They are both exasperatingly forgetful. They have the leisure to call back memories from the past. They can look at old issues with fresh perspectives; even enjoy the world upside down, when their car turns turtle. A. V. Dhanushkodi and Vishalam Ekambaram played him and her. Their performance went beyond theatre into life and was as good as it has always been.
Bhagirathi Narayanan's choice of scripts underscored Vasudev's drawings, ``Two Decades Between the Lines." It took the audience back to his He and She and Theatre of Life Series. It repeated the black on white of the drawings. She drew her moves from his sleek and minimalist lines. While ``The Open Couple" explored the complexity of Vasudev's idioms and themes, ``LOST" explained them in simpler, more sophisticated language, by a reversal of perspectives. Visitations into the past juxtaposed current angst. Meticulous direction ensured that it would never upstage the reasons why the production was presented with Vasudev's drawings.
The computer graphic designs projected during the plays raised a couple of questions. In the case of good scripts researched and interpreted by a competent director like Bhagirathi and enacted by skilled actors, are graphics necessary at all? When the graphics in and of themselves are good, the audience can find it very distracting - deciding what to focus on, the actors or the graphics. However, as a prop, it came in handy in the elevator scene when one could actually visualise the actors go up and down behind the grill doors.
For those who were theatregoers of Madras since the 70s, the two plays meant more than an event at an art exhibition. It celebrated relationships and collaborative efforts, which have refined over 40-odd years. Vasudev, Bhagirathi, Dhanushkodi and Vishalam were all part of a group of young friends and the main body of Madras Players, in what was perhaps its best years. It was a time when theatre meant more than boarded productions. It went beyond, to the audience, taking quality for granted.
Bhagirathi, Vishalam and Dhanushkodi were some of the finest actors we had seen. Vasudev's posters of their productions were collector's items... They gave of their best and their best was good.
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