REVIEW NSD final year students’ production “Sweet Bird of Youth” is a skilful adaptation of the original play.
The name of American playwright Tennessee Williams (March 1911-February 1983) is known to most theatre goers in India. In Delhi, if one remembers correctly, we have seen some of his plays like “The Glass Menagerie”, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. And this past week the final year students of the National School of Drama mounted “Sweet Bird of Youth” (1959) in Rajesh Talang’s Hindi translation, directed by Anuradha Kapur.
As per NSD’s academic schedule, the final year students, having studied traditional theatre and Sanskrit drama in the second year, move on to Western drama during this time of the year, and are introduced to Shakespeare, Brecht and modern playwrights. Usually, a well known director from abroad is invited to work with the students for two months or so. This year a guest director from England had been invited to work on Gorky’s “Summer Folks” with the students. Unfortunately, the director fell sick and had to go back home. So NSD Director Anuradha Kapur, who also teaches Acting and Direction at the institute, took on the challenge and with active help from well known stage actor Harish Khanna, brought out the best from the cast.
As soon as the lights came on the stage the multi level set holds your attention. But first a few words about the play. “Sweet Bird of Youth”, that opens with Chance Wayne, the protagonist, in a hotel room in St. Cloud, Florida, where Princess Kosmonopolis, a faded movie star whose actual name is Alexandra del Lago, agrees to help him make an entry into the movie world. The main reason for his return, however, is to get back what he had lost in his youth — his old girlfriend, Heavenly Finley. Many years ago he had infected Heavenly with a venereal disease, and her father, Boss Finley, the sheriff, had then turned him out of town. The play proceeds with Chance’s attempts at a reconciliation with Heavenly. However, he finally fails and it is implied that he is castrated at the hands of Boss Finley’s henchmen.
The location is the Royal Palm Beach hotel and the ground floor level is primarily used as a ballroom. While the space downstage left is the shower room, the upstage right is a pretty large guest room occupied by Princess Kosmopolis and at the same level is Boss Finley’s terrace. Most of the action takes place on the ground level space or the room occupied by the Princess that has a slide built in for exits to provide a dramatic touch. After seeing Anuradha’s presentation of “Sweet Bird of Youth”, this critic for the first time read the play as written by Tennessee Williams. In Talang’s version, while keeping to the storyline of the original play, all the American culture specific lines had been cut out. Then again, the original lines had a certain pattern of speech and rhythm that lent colour and depth to the characters’ delivery of lines. Talang too must have spent sleepless nights composing words, lines and an idiom that is racy and colloquial like the language used by Williams. Talang’s adaptation though fully projects the spirit of the original play. The use of the slide from the first floor room may not fit into a strictly realistic design, but it certainly covers the ‘ups’ and ‘sudden falls’ from grace of some of the leading characters.