While Pritham Chakravarthy's monologue "Mirror" was gripping, Evam's "The Cut" bubbled with a sense of fun

The Hindu Metro Plus Theatre Festival includes fringe events - a workshop and four half-hour plays at the Alliance Francaise by Chennai's theatre groups. The first evening showcased two works of different character, indicating the variety of genres the festival includes.The devadasi has always been a subject of deep interest to artistes on stage and screen. For over two millennia, these dancers `married' the temple deity, sang and danced before his sanctum during puja, and in temple processions. They were courtesans who epitomised art and culture, patronised by aristocrats and kings. When this system was abolished in the last century, the devadasi community found itself bereft of support. They had no `man' to head their households. A few did continue teaching, and performing on the stage. Some found a means of livelihood in the Madras film industry.Scripted and directed by Venkatesh Chakravarthy, and performed by Pritham K. Chakravarthy, "Mirror" is a monologue that begins grippingly with the suicide of a filmstar-daughter, described by her filmstar-mother. The story goes on, showing us Kumbakonam Rajeswari Santhanalakshmi, a devadasi bound to the temple in girlhood, finding herself out of the temple and outside a Kodambakkam studio, hoping to be chosen as an `extra'. But `Master' finds her, appropriates her, and turns her into a star. She goes through many partners, bears daughters, finds happiness in a lesbian relationship, until one by one, she loses her family and friends. Pritham's enactment had vigour, intensity and conviction. With her strong visual sense, she turned descriptions into a running footage of scenes, with identifiable characters. The device of adorning herself from top to toe - beginning with nail polish and ending with flowers on the `kondai', emphasised both narcissism and sensuality. The act of ornamenting neck, ears and wrist through the narrative, established not only period flavours, but also her individual anguish. The script, and the enactment, chose to avoid subtlety. Everything was explicit, whether word, glance or gesture. Admittedly, such overt ways has its own communicative force.The tinsel world was compellingly etched. What was not actualised was the world of old culture, of temples and tiruvizha, of sadir and singing. Without that base, the exchange of a sophisticated aesthetics for downright sleaziness could not come through.Entertaining skit"The Cut'' by Ed Monk is watered down Ionesco, Pirandello and their ilk, stripped of the philosophy. Hints of comic strips and old box theatre farces abounded, without their lightning energy. The skit opens to a group rehearsing a play, with the actors in a muddle about their roles; about the real and fake scripts; with delusions of being director rather than actor; and in search of the original director.Directed by Sunill and Karthik, this Evam Entertainment production was forgettable comedy, but it certainly entertained the young actors, who were very much together, bubbling with a sense of fun. It was good to see over a dozen young people participating in a major theatre festival in the city. Kudos to Evam for giving them the opportunity to gain stage experience. As always with Evam, the text was well rehearsed, and made more interesting than it is with devices such as entries from every part of the little hall. This was done with stylish unexpectedness. Lighting too mixed bleach (of the back screen, for those silhouette effects) with fade-outs, and colourful flashes to generate gusto. The techies running up the ladder to fix the lights brought a vertical dimension to the play. The two girls playing the roles, struck some sprightly notes, and with a feel for the words they spoke. GOWRI RAMNARAYAN

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