A man and his two wives. Bigamy, especially when the wives are oblivious to each other's reality, tends to be the easiest one-stop route to laughter. Ray Cooney's “Run for Your Wife” which ran for over six years in London's West End, came in an Indian incarnation again over the past weekend.
Presented by the 25-year-old amateur group Dramatech and directed by Renu S. Chopra, “Run for Your Wife” has had a successful 13-show run since April this year and is geared up for more performances in the coming weeks.
Renu “customises” Cooney's script to India. Tourist car operator Joginder Pal Singh has two wives and two households. Cooney's protagonist had homes in Wimbledon and Streatham, Joginder Pal has his at Kalkaji and Malviya Nagar.
The sets are impressive with the stage neatly partitioned into yellow and striped blue and white walls for the two homes. It is a merry life for Joginder Pal, clock-worked to perfection, and his car operator status allows him to efficiently divide his time between the two homes. Morning, noon, evening, night and late night shifts mean his time with the women never overlaps.
It is a smooth sailing until an act of bravery lands him in the hospital. A slip from Joginder Pal, when he gives different addresses at the police station and hospital, opens the Pandora's box.
“Run for Your Wife” has its moments. The mayhem, especially in the first half, works. It is the latent humour in seemingly harmless lines that clicks. Mira, Joginder Pal's wife from Malviya Nagar, reports to the police when her husband doesn't return from work. The policemen's query about Joginder Pal's “distinguishing marks” is met with “none, he is very ordinary”.
It is the seemingly ordinary Joginder Pal's extraordinary romantic life that impresses his neighbour and ally Sanjay Mali. With both the wives reporting their husband missing, anarchy ensues. Attempts at keeping the two women from knowing one another know no bounds. Whenever they come face-to-face, he convinces them that one is a transvestite and the other a nun. Probably, that's where the play begins to go awry. Comedy demands deftness and slips to farcical and slapstick quickly. To save his skin, Joginder Pal doesn't mind being gay — apparently a relationship with Mali. Probably written as it was in the early 1980s, the treatment of homosexuality is flippant, at times unflattering. Bobby, the gay neighbour, never grows beyond the stereotype and is meant only for guffaws.
Impossible situations have their part to play in a comedy. However, the typically over-zealous, slow police officers, inspector Rathore and Thakur, make you shake in disbelief. Despite knowing Joginder Pal is fine, they take it upon themselves to solve the address mystery. The kind of time and attention spent on a trivial case is flattering, yet hard to believe. Further, one of them takes it upon himself to solve Joginder Pal's domestic problems and once even dons the apron and ventures into the kitchen to make tea.
The women are bogged down by unidimensionality, especially the Kalkaji wife Bindu. There are hardly any lines she delivers that do not hint at going to bed with her husband.
A comedy's success is determined by actors and “Run for Your Wife” does well here. Actors overact the ‘wee bit' that makes it comic. The play, meanwhile, is performed by two teams. Renu jests, “It was to create more headaches for myself.” The large talent pool of actors at Dramatech made the director consider the option of two casts. “It is interesting” she says and adds the teams give different dimensions to the play.