Theatre

Anatomy of success

The play "Success"  

Success

August 20

7.30 p.m., Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Hall, Harrington Road, Chetpet

What is the definition of success? What are its costs? “Success”, a play that first premiered in Milwaukee, the U.S., back in 1991, tries to answer these universal questions by taking a peek into the life of Richard Sterling, a busy — and successful — advertising executive whose company helped elect the President of the U.S.

The play has since been re-written and updated to reflect our globalised existence in the new millennium, but its essence remains unchanged. “The play was always concerned with defining public and private success, and displaying the costs to pursue it,” says John Kishline, the playwright. “Putting a price on your soul has been around since they carved the first letters into stone. The tools are new. The human heart in conflict with itself is not.”

“Success” unfolds in real-time, with the audience getting to a window into 75 minutes of Sterling's high-pressured existence and the turmoil in his personal life — as he comes back to office from lunch, has three visitors and makes seven phone calls.

His first visitor is John Arnold, a lawyer with whom Sterling is partnering a real-estate deal, and with whom he clashes over financial issues. His second visitor is an Egyptian woman who's about to run for President in her newly-democratic country, and wants Sterling to help run her campaign. Should he choose her campaign over the U.S. President's re-election?

Finally, he's confronted with a young, female version of himself — an ambitious colleague of Indian origin who wants to climb the ladder of success and is paying the costs...

Theatre MXT is a new company, but Kishline and his wife Deborah Clifton (who also acts in the play) have several years of experience with Theatre X, an award-winning experimental ensemble that's toured the world.

“Success” will be touring India this summer along with Delhi-based actor Kriti Pant, who auditioned for the part through the Internet.

“Kriti was the first responder to send her material, and was the third or fourth to audition,” says Kishline. “Many times, in an audition process, you will see in a moment when someone is right for the role. We now can confirm that is also true via Skype.”

This play comes to the Fest with the support of the U.S. Consulate, Chennai.

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THE UNIVERSAL RESONANCE

Director Edward Morgan strongly believes that though “Success” is planted in the context of American politics, it has a basic and human quality that makes it understandable to Indian audiences.

‘Success' first premiered in 1991, and has since been re-written to reflect current socio-political realities. How much of the original has been retained and how much has changed or revised in the new version?

The soul of the play is the same, but a great deal of the piece has been rewritten. In part, this is to bring the play more up to date. This includes making one character a Presidential candidate from Egypt (she was previously from El Salvador) and making one character an Indian woman, working in the U.S. But in part, I believe the rewriting reflects a more mature sensibility, and a more linear and psychological approach — much of which has been my contribution dramaturgically. The play has much more plot actually, more spine, and hence I think the acting can be more specific and grounded.

The play is firmly planted in the context of American politics and Ppresidential campaigns. Do you have concerns about something being lost in translation when it's performed before an Indian audience?

I have questions, more than concerns, about how it will play for an Indian audience. However, I think each of the scenes and relationships can ultimately be boiled down to something that is basic and human, and will be understandable to Indian audiences. Perhaps, some of the specifics and some of the politics will be foreign or unclear, but the human story should resonate well. And frankly, that would be our principal goal for an American or British audience as well. So, aside from looking for minor points that might confuse or obscure, our work is not significantly different than it would be for a production here in the U.S.

You worked with Kriti Pant, the Indian actor, through online rehearsals in preparation for her joining you during your tour of India. What was this experience in globalised preparation — via the Internet — like for the cast and crew? Was it a first for the theatre group?

I have used Skype quite a bit, so I'm comfortable with it, and when I suggested casting an Indian for this role I also suggested that we could cast it by Skype. And, though it was a first to cast and rehearse by Internet, once we were in the process, it did not seem particularly strange. It's wonderful technology, and underlines the sense of the world getting smaller and all of us getting closer — when we want to be.


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