In search and hope of a new audience

On stage: A performance of Oho Room   | Photo Credit: Picasa

Away from the spotlight, at the NCPA Add Art festival last week, a selection of theatre pieces by upcoming theatremakers were staged at the Little Theatre, a 114-seater dedicated to ‘new talent and new audiences’. Curated by Thespo, the two-day-long itinerary received little airing in the festival’s publicity material, but intrepid volunteers were able to fan out across the NCPA, where a fete-like atmosphere had taken hold over the weekend, and bring back a good number of attendees (and quite a diverse bunch too) for each fixture. Among the showcased plays was a new production written and directed by Prachi Arya, intriguingly called Oho Room, which refers to the virtual chamber of societal disapproval in which unconventional life choices might place an individual. Here, a woman’s choice to raise a daughter as a single parent is called into question by these self-appointed nay-sayers, who who only chime in as part of a chorus, never revealing themselves. A small ensemble of six actors, some of them fairly new to the stage, effect a journey in which the daughter grows into adulthood and learns to gracefully sidestep the censure, but not without customary angst and heartache.

Self-contained dramas

Arya trains her focus on the women at the centre of the tale — mother Ritu (Riti Kumar) and daughter Yashi (Akanksha Yadav), named after her life-long absent father. She doesn’t represent them as long-suffering paragons, but rather, quirky individuals who own up to their decisions and never play the blame-game for the hand society has supposedly dealt them. Also refreshing is the manner in which the men in the story are delineated, which veers the piece away from being a statement on the ill-effects of patriarchy (although it remains all pervasive) to something more conciliatory in which women have the agency to take control of their own lives, despite the odds. A kindly overbearing uncle (Samudra Samrat), a father never quite demonised, a personable love interest (Ankur Pandey) who she keeps at arm’s length, punctuate Yashi’s life. It’s the mother who bears the burden for the most part, and Arya equips her with a brooding interior world, that nonetheless provides her endless succour. Both Yadav and Kumar seem to be shoo-ins for their parts, and bring honesty to their portrayals. The connection between them, even at a distance, provides the play its strong emotional moorings.

As is often the case with amateur theatre, or theatre that is still trying to find its professional footing, Oho Room lacks the stagecraft one might expect of a well-produced play, and there are dramatic choices that seem perfectly appropriate but aren’t always executed to any level of finesse, and this includes both technical and performative elements — so there is a curve that the play must still negotiate. Yet, there is also a sense of adequacy that some plays possess that make them seem self-contained in their own worlds. The actors draw much emotion from the low-fat writing, leaving us with a heart-warming narrative that’s never sentimental, despite its occasional reliance on clichés. Arya’s constant presence as the play’s de facto narrator, grounds it emotionally, and makes it a testimonial of sorts, and not one constructed as a protest piece. Without making too much of it, Oho Room is a play that benefits immeasurably from its feminine gaze, and crafts a world in which women can take the men along, if they so wish. After a while, they can even transcend the omniscient ‘Oho Room’, and marvel at how it might have contributed to their resilience.

On the radar

Other plays by young women playwrights (and this is still an underrepresented category) on the radar include Product of the System by Sharodiya Chowdhury, The Lottery by Nayantara Nayar, The Wolf by Vishaka Sriram, The Ostrich by Pooja Sivaraman and The Blank Slate by Aditi Puthran. The first four names were part of a ten-strong group of under-25 writers who participated in the UnBlock playwriting workshop organised by Rage Productions and Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre, with Nayar ultimately showcasing her work at a reading at the Traverse. The themes these plays tackle are diverse. For instance, Chowdhury’s is a take on how educational institutions and powers-that-be are churning out clones, while insidiously wiping out individuality, while Puthran makes the case for the rehabilitation of a gay man once married to a woman, in a way that allows all affected parties to move on with their lives.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 4:00:43 AM |

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