A rib-tickling fare

Engrossing narrative: Actors enacting a scene in Arsenic & Old Lace Special Arrangement

Engrossing narrative: Actors enacting a scene in Arsenic & Old Lace Special Arrangement  


Nayana Sagar’s Hindi adaptation of Joseph Kesserling’s “Arsenic & Old Lace” was a fine presentation marked by some persuasive performances and great comic timing

There are some plays that continue to enthral audience despite their repeated staging. One such is the ever popular American playwright Joseph Kesserling’s “Arsenic & Old Lace”. Its Hindi adaptation attracted a sizeable audience despite the prevailing cold conditions when put on board last week at the Panna Bharat Ram Theatre Festival, Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts’ annual event.

With an excellent content in hand – a farcical black comedy – director Nayana Sagar made watching this play an enjoyable experience. The acting, innovative lighting, set design, timing, music, props and pithy lines elicited repeated applause from the audience. It was laugh-a-minute show that didn’t allow a boring moment in the two-hour long play.

Homicidal maniacs

The plot revolves around the Vasai-based D’Silva family, whose members include insane homicidal maniacs. Martha (Aarti Nayyar) and Rosa (Sohaila Kapur), the two old aunts, believe they are doing “social work” by killing elderly, lonely men, when they turn up looking for accommodation in their house. The victims are offered home-made elderberry wine, ironically made from the fruit growing in adjacent graveyard, laced with arsenic, strychnine and a pinch of cyanide. Their nephew, Jonathan (Ashutosh Kumar Keshav) is a psychopath killer with a plastic surgeon, Dr. Talwar (Manish Panwar), as companion, who changes the former’s appearance after every murder.

Jonathan’s present makeover prompts everyone to compare him to Amrish Puri, much to his annoyance and the surgeon’s discomfort. Alfie (Kirti Kaushik) is the schizophrenic nephew, who thinks he is Hitler, dressed up in a uniform, complete with a swastika arm band. He helps the aunts to bury the old men, thinking they are Jews, exterminated in the concentration camp. The sane nephew Bobby (Utkarsh Sharma), a theatre critic, in love with neighbour Julie (Shreya Pokhriyal), is left to handle this bizarre and berserk crowd.

Off to a slow start, the play warms up with two sisters taking the centre-stage. Their acting, timing and synchronisation reminded one of a high-scoring partnership in cricket, with both complementing and supplementing the other, in terms of emoting, actions and dialogues. Dressed in long skirts or black mourning dresses, with a cross dangling from their chains and their Anglo Indian accent, slow movements and slight stoop, made them look genuine aunts.

Perfect foil

Bobby proved a perfect foil for them. He excelled by displaying his bewilderment, amazement and inability to make sense of the actions of his aunts and brother, Jonathan, in a perfect measure.

Ashutosh made Jonathan’s portrayal as a psychopath look real with the frenzied and quick actions and words. The scar across his face, made him look menacing. Alfie’s “Heil Hitler” salute, blowing the bugle at crucial points and talking about invasion of Poland, added to the humour. Other supporting actors contributed in equal measure, rendering the performance seamless.

While the sudden movements by actors gave a momentum to the proceedings and kept the audience engaged, its repeated use seemed at times jarring.

The well-designed set by Nayana, with minimal props adequately gave one the feel of the living room, the basement where the dead were buried and the adjoining kitchen. The stage lighting played a crucial role in heightening the drama as did Sayam Raj Sagar’s music.

The dramatic twist at the end as the aunts try to better Jonathan’s tally of victims, had the audience in splits.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 6:59:01 AM |

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