Theatre

Desire, social conditioning and brutality

On stage: A performance of Diana Miae Son’s Stop Kiss

On stage: A performance of Diana Miae Son’s Stop Kiss  

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Diana Miae Son’s New York-based drama, Stop Kiss translocated to suburban Mumbai explores social prejudice

A rare play on gay-bashing by a woman playwright of colour will add some sobriety to this month’s otherwise celebratory build-up to Mumbai Pride 2020 — or the Queer Azaadi March as it is often dubbed — scheduled for February 1. Rather than the sheer multitude of cis gay men who populate queer plays, Korean-American writer Diana Miae Son’s Stop Kiss centres around two women in love — traffic reporter Callie and schoolteacher Sara — whose innocent first kiss, in a public street, results in a brutal and unwarranted attack that leaves Sara in a coma, and Callie doing everything in her disposal to bring her back. The play seems particularly topical at the moment in India, since openly expressed vitriol and bigotry is something we are no stranger to, given the past week’s shocking turn of affairs at JNU. Queer populations in India have been especially vulnerable to unprovoked attacks, including those perpetrated by the powers-that-be, although most incidents of homophobia likely go unreported.

Son’s play opened off-Broadway in 1998 at the Public Theater in New York, the city in which it is set. The New York Times wrote “Manhattan growls like an underfed pit bull in [this] sweet, sad and enchantingly sincere play.” The opening run featured an upcoming Sandra Oh (as Sara), and was extended a record-breaking three times. Stop Kiss has since seen scores of productions, primarily in American community theatres and colleges, with several international stopovers in London and elsewhere. This week’s Indian production, directed by Dipika Pandey, will be staged by The Actors’ Truth, the academy run by veteran acting coach Saurabh Sachdeva, well-known to many as Sacred Games’ Suleiman Isa. Apart from the protagonists, an ensemble of actors will perform a constellation of characters in an adaptation that has been relocated, somewhat aptly, to suburban Mumbai with its beguiling mix of conservatism and hipness.

Cultural conflicts

The play is part of Sachdeva’s academy repertoire, having seen earlier iterations directed by alumni. Pandey’s version is a professional staging that is part of the academy’s ongoing Antarang Theatre Festival, whose theme is inclusivity in love. “This year we dedicate the festival to LGBTQ people who have stood strongly in the fight against prejudice in society,” says Sachdeva. As Son herself said, “I am consistently interested in the conflict between how other people identify you and the more complex way in which you know yourself. [There is a] contrast between how you assume things are one moment, and how they can utterly, irrevocably change in the next.”

Pandey’s own background in physical theatre — she’s trained in kalaripayattu and other forms — will likely bring a new dimension to the way her actors play out an otherwise wordy chamber drama. “I see the play as a form of protest. We structured it collaboratively out of what everyone’s interpretation was,” says Pandey, whose process involved an intense physical exploration, which allowed the actors to tap into emotions held within their own bodies. Her earlier movement collaboration with Arpit Singh, #metoo, relied similarly on somatic expression, juxtaposing the “toxicity we constantly absorb with our obsession with cleanliness.”

Pride month

Although it is not part of the official Mumbai Pride calendar brought out by a loose collective of community groups, Stop Kiss rounds out an interesting array of performing arts events slated for this month across the city. For instance, the Jimme Foundation will showcase the promenade presentation QMusical at Carter Road; StoryCellar will run workshops which will culminate in an evening of storytelling with freshly minted queer raconteurs, and the unapologetically redoubtable Rainbow Voices will hold sway with Bol Ki Lab Aazaad Hai Tere, a chorus concert with a difference. In another off-calendar theatre event, this writer’s venture with Queer Ink’s Shobhna S Kumar, InQueerAble, will see a dozen-odd theatre actors interpreting the word ‘queer’ in a 2020 context for an evening of solo performances next week.

Stop Kiss will stage on January 12 at Mukkti Cultural Auditorium at 8 p.m.; more details at bookmyshow.com

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 6:09:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/desire-social-conditioning-and-brutality/article30525681.ece

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