Dystopian view of disconnected lives

In sync: Performance of This is All There Is When There is All This

In sync: Performance of This is All There Is When There is All This  

In Zbigniew Rybczynski’s Oscar-winning animated short, Tango (1981), within the static frame of a nondescript room 36 characters simultaneously execute humdrum routines ad infinitum, each activity largely unconnected to the rest, resulting in a dissonance that is strangely persuasive. Part of that is because of the meticulousness of the craft involved, with the flight path of each creature of unmitigated habit charted with mathematical precision. The characters present multiple realities in the same space at different times, or the stages of life itself. Or, they could be the members of one community who co-exist but never really come together, filing past each other like they were cardboard cut-outs.

Energetic display

In their play, This is All There Is When There is All This, co-directors Sujay Saple and Rachel D’Souza attempt to recreate a Tango-style assemblage of orchestrated chaos with a 25 member ensemble on the Prithvi stage. The performers inhabit independent trajectories of largely non-verbal performance, in which temporality is of the essence. The set-pieces were devised with their active participation, and take us into the realm of lived experiences and socially rehearsed behaviours, acquainting us with rituals of memory, and how it might be reconstructed. There is constancy and concentration, bursts of spiritedness, but also long stretches of tedium. What soon becomes clear is the debt (and depth) the piece owes its actors. They flood the space with their energies, their bodies alive to this world in spectacular fashion. They bring conviction to their parts, certainly contributing to the fluency of presentation, but also giving off the vibe of something fresh and vital. Although arguably under-utilized, they make the most of their individual turns, creating a patchwork of streamlined bodies.

A standout performer is the nimble-footed Janhavi Pawar who, in one section, futilely attempts to scramble up a chair on which a masculine martial presence (Trinetra Tiwari) has exercised his authority. The chair travels across the space, disappearing and resurfacing, but the power equation remains unchanged. Alternately, Pawar is strapped to the back of a writer (Aakash Prabhakar) and when she extricates herself Houdini-style and slides away like quicksilver, he is reduced to listlessly strumming away on an anachronistic Remington. It’s a moment that is at once chilling and diverting. Providing a backdrop of babble is Shreya Chakraborty who keeps an endearingly irascible tête-à-tête going with her star-crossed beau (Atul Somkuwar). Niketan Sharma plays a man seeking moments of quiet contemplation, only to be seemingly interrupted by an other-worldly woman (Radhika Chopra) engrossed in her own ritual of self-desecration. His sheer incredulousness at this collision ends up as the evening’s running gag. These are the rare occasions when the actors resort to verbal expression.

Battle of the gaze

These narratives indicate a charged gendered turf, perhaps accounted for by the tempering of Saple’s signature male gaze with D’Souza’s world-view. Elsewhere, Nitya Mathur’s angry goddess avatar mows down legions with an automatic weapon at her disposal. In one pas de deux, a man (Sanket Kadam) forcefully tries to rein in a grappling woman, blinded by the entitlement afforded by his toxic masculinity. Later, the woman (Mallika Singh) emerges drenched in blue paint, her piteous eyes signalling a creature who has been blighted even if her spirit remains unquelled. Prashansa Sharma and Rushab Kamdar play lovers who cannot break through each other’s defenses. Kamdar’s unblinking intensity certainly makes a case of how such a piece is so dependent on the activated state of the performer. In the midst of this youthful brigade, is the gravitas-laden presence of Atul Kumar, a man who carries the baggage of a lifelong tryst with theatre. It establishes a kind of specious meta-turf, because the piece ostensibly marks 25 years since the Company Theatre’s inception. Or, it could be yet another red herring in a sea of them.

Enforced bonhomie

Ultimately, the performance does not transcend the veneer of borrowed styles that characterise Saple’s output. It is derivative of the radical counter-theatre works that it tries to emulate. The randomness on display speaks more of the lack of a blueprint than a premeditated attempt at amorphousness. The piece harnesses both ambiguity and underlined dramatic tension, both absence and presence. Elements that might aid in building a narrative are stripped away. That is not problematic in itself, but instead of a profusion of rich interpretations we are left with a carefully calibrated symphony of ‘satisfactory moments’ that exist only as the packaging of deeper ideas, hidden under the banner of intellectual abstraction, that we cannot access. Although the actors are committed to both the subtle and the grand, they never seem to be part of the same ethos, leaving us with a fragmented experience. Even in those moments when they are brought together for forced but never justified crescendos, it is an indulgent show of strength rather than the confluence of kindred spirits. Indeed, a campfire gathering after a sobering death radiates only a sense of enforced bonhomie.

One would-be moment frittered away is when the actors gather to sing an anthem in a possibly Slavic tongue. In his seminal book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari talks of how, great advancements of ideas have taken place historically when people who don’t know each other were mobilised in large numbers because of a shared belief system. That essential common frame of reference is what this play lacks, even as it purportedly tackles a bleak dystopia of disconnected lives, and the song remains an inconsequential refrain lost to the wind, rather than the murmurings of a revolution.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 4:22:15 PM |

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