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Intense personal journey

In a gripping monologue, P. C. Ramakrishna brought alive the agony of a husband, who contemplates euthanasia for his bedridden wife. ELIZABETH ROY touches on the show that had many other highpoints.

"Mercy" drew theatre professionals and enthusiasts alike. — Pic. by S. Thanthoni.

TO SATYA, above everything else, Janani was his life. Then there is an accident and Janani slips into a yearlong coma. The situation takes its toll on Satya and he decides to overdose her into release. A traffic congestion delays the schedule of the fatal medication and meanwhile Janani comes out of coma. Satya, ridden with guilt and remorse, loses his sanity and takes his own life.

That in essence was the original plot of Sivasankari's Tamil novel, ``Karunai Kolai." The editors of the magazine in which it was being serialized in the 1970s believed that readers might want a positive end and Sivasankari rewrote the end, with Janani and Satya separating till time heals their wounds and the baggage is lightened.

The novel had struck a chord in P. C. Ramakrishna, who translated it into English and then wrote a script for an hour-long solo theatre adaptation for himself. He then chose Mithran Devanesen to design the play and direct him. The Madras Players, in association with MTC Productions, to present him.

For Ramakrishna, ``Mercy" was an intense personal journey, and his first ever solo theatre performance. The evening went down very well with the audience. Theatre professionals and enthusiasts came for aesthetic reasons and to see Ramakrishna in his best performance yet and to see how designer-director Mithran Devanesen would conjure up the environment to contain and give expression to the actor. There was an unusually large representation from the older Brahmin cultural milieu, who found in the story familiar sentiments and situations that they could identify with. Many came to hear Janani's singing voice, Gayathri Venkatraghavan.

Ramakrishna's Satya was superb. He lived the character through an impressive gamut of emotions, always slipping back into the disturbed psyche of Satya that eventually led him to take his own life. He aged his body visually into a restrained shuffling. He seemed to retract with every step forward. You could actually see him shrinking physically into desolation even as he felt the need to escape from the light and seek refuge in the dark. His spirit would suddenly soar to the recorded voice of his Janani singing. When there was nothing more his body could communicate, Ramakrishna turned to his voice to push the envelope further, to cause a real groundswell.

The real strength of the production was that it was able to take a monologue and transform it into theatre. The audience could actually feel, watch and listen to all the other characters that moved in and out of the narrative. And that's where Mithran Devanesen's production design came into play.

The sets were stark and elegant and built predominantly of dark wood against black. A semicircular grid closed in on Satya, restricting his movements within a cage, as it were. Even the body of Janani, draped in white and suspended at a higher level could only be seen through the window of the grid. At the proscenium, the cage opened outward to include the audience in the trap. That was a brilliant technical touch.

The screen at the back served as a window blind, the view to the outside, when shadows and colours were cast on it and a devise to disappear blur the body of Janani from the present. The lighting design was delicate and used soft diffused light. Except for the single instance of unnecessary drum rolls to heighten drama, the sounds fell into perfect sync with lights and drew Gayathri Venkatraghavan's rich, stirring singing more into focus. The singing was glorious and succeeded in establishing Janani's presence on stage. At certain times, however, the singing drowned Ramakrishna's voice.

And, the voice that spoke for Janani, in total contrast to the emotion charged singing, was rather flat, devoid of any emotion. Somehow it seemed out of harmony with the image of Janani that Satya had already created in our minds.

The script captured the cadences and nuances of Tamil as the particular group and generation spoke it. It gave us situations to ponder and was good story-telling.

The 70 minutes that it lasted, however, seemed too short, too compressed and too crowded to allow the subtext to surface completely and facilitate the dialogue with the audience. The audience would willingly have given more of their mind and attention to hear Ramakrishna raise issues and share the consternation in his mind.

At the end of the day ``Mercy" was a great piece of theatre that did Chennai proud. To quote one of our younger theatre groups, ``Now, that was theatre, that is what we should aspire to be."

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