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Midlife crisis

SRAVASTI DATTA
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Play Melissa James Gibson's This was staged by Dramanon with professional precision

PERFECT POINTLESSNESSOf midlife
PERFECT POINTLESSNESSOf midlife

The works of the Canadian playwright Melissa James Gibson has been compared with that of Harold Pinter and Edward Albee. “This”, her latest and landmark play that put her on the map of Broadway wonders, is at its simplest, a take on midlife crisis.

“This” was staged by Dramanon at Ranga Shankara last week. The Sharanya Ramprakash-directed play had to tide over some obstacles. First, the characters are products of a New York middle-class angst and confusion. Educated, yet unfulfilled, constantly in search of something larger than their sorry lives. Also, the humour is typically American, which could have been lost to an Indian audience. But it wasn't. It hits home by revealing life as it is, which is inane and mundane for the most part.

The play occurs over multiple locations. Sharanya, with the stage designer Rupesh Patange, utilises stage space effectively.

Four urban 30 somethings, saddled with family responsibilities, are negotiating the “Rest of Their Lives”. Jane, a poet, is almost always high-strung following the death of her husband. Tom and Marell, who have a baby who “sleeps in 15 minute increments”. Alan, the dry-witted gay man who laments not being “pretty and likeable”, is fed up of his “dinky” life. And Jean-Pierre, the French doctor without borders, is just well…hot, besides doing some good work in Africa.

The play opens with Tom, Marell and Alan introducing Jane to Jean-Pierre. This occurs amidst cross-conversations, Tom purposely annoying Marell by refusing to fill the Brita to its brim and attempts at shushing each other in not waking up the baby. To get Jane to open up, the friends play a game, which through unexpected twists, turns out to have an uncanny relation with her life.

What ensues, is an illicit relationship between the “stoic woodworker” Tom with the “poet-without-a-muse”, Jane. Alan, cursed with a perfect memory, finally puts it to good use by resolving the fight between Marell and Tom, when the former finds out about her husband's fling.

“This” with its tongue-in-cheek humour is entertaining. But there are also many poignant moments, which are reflected at times through lines that are capsules of wisdom and at others as a lingering look or an affectionate touch.

Serena Punch fits Marell naturally. Her performance is effortless. Long after the play is over, her performance would flash across one's mind as one full of joie de vivre. Swetanshu Bora tones down his usually powerful stage presence to meld into Tom's unrealised self. Nakul Bhalla is another natural. His suave movements and dialogue delivery brings out the cynic in Alan rather well. Kavitha Babu as Jane is intense. Her stamina is good; it isn't easy playing a hyper person continuously for close to two hours. Siddhartha Rao held on to his French accent well and was a good support to the rest of the cast. The live music by Madhuri Isaacs Chauhan on the piano, Pradeep Gopal on the guitar and Serena on vocals set the mood of the play.

Perhaps, “This” is best summed up in the line that Alan says: “There is no story. That's the point”, meaning that midlife is pointless.

SRAVASTI DATTA

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