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When characters went looking for the author

Translation made one of the classics of world theatre accessible to a small but highly responsive audience as the Koothu-p-pattarai group went into action recently. KAUSALYA SANTHANAM writes...



"Six characters in search of an author" ... illusion and reality woven to form interesting patterns — Pic. by K. Pichumani

THE EFFECT was hypnotic. It was like watching the tracks from a train — now coming together, now veering away and then criss-crossing. Illusion and reality, life and the theatre, converged and parted and wove interesting patterns. And the result was that the audience was sucked into the drama of the "Six Characters in Search of An Author." The existential play by the Nobel Laureate Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) was presented by the Koothu-p-pattarai theatre group for ten evenings up to March 20 at its new premises in Virugambakkam. The Tamil translation by C. Mani made one of the classics of world theatre accessible to a small but highly responsive audience on March 13. The play was directed by the Israeli theatre personality Gil Alon. Pirandello was equally successful as a playwright, novelist and short story writer.

``Six Characters..." which was premiered in Paris in 1923 was one of the Italian writer's most successful plays and left a lasting impact on the work of many greats of existential drama such as Jean Anouilh and Jean-Paul Sartre. Pirandello's marriage to a wealthy merchant's daughter, when he was 27, had a significant effect on his writing. His wife became a victim of a mental disorder and although they separated in 1919 — she was admitted to a sanatorium — it deepened his interest in psychology and the inscrutable workings of the human mind. Psychological themes predominate in his work.

In ``Six Characters..." the contrast is effectively drawn between ``forever changing life and ever constant art." This is a different type of a play- ``theatre within the theatre." Six fictional characters abandoned by their author walk into the rehearsal of another play. They plead with the bemused director to present their story.

They demand a share of the action and are unhappy or amused when the actors don't come up to their expectations. The viewer watches, sometimes absorbed, sometimes restless at the verbiage, while the characters — two of them mainly — tell their story. The characters who hijack the attention of the director are a teenaged girl who has become a prostitute, her two young traumatised siblings, their step father who is eager to absolve himself of guilt, the anguished mother who has seen it all happen and her son who wants to distance himself from the action. The original actors watch as the newcomers take over and then try to step into the characters' shoes. But they are unable to capture the spirit of the originals. The ending, as expected, is tragic and the director, tired of it all calls ``pack up." The technique was brilliant and riveting. But not the story which in these 80 years has been much flogged — the themes of sexual exploitation, incest and maladjusted families.

The lights (design: V. Bhaskar) played their part splendidly though one could not say as much for the costumes. Among the actors, Jayarao was earnestly persuasive as the voluble father. He delivered his voluminous dialogue without a falter and Babu was suitably impatient and interested, in turn, as the director. But it was Aparna Gopinath who was dazzling as the wayward daughter. Without her the play would have seemed anaemic. But the coquettish look and the deliberately exaggerated voluptuousness became a strain to watch after some time.

As for Kalairani who put in a brief appearance in the role of the Telugu interspersed with Tamil speaking Madame Ramalakka, this was certainly not her best performance. In ``Prahlada Charitram," Alon took an Indian text and gave it a layered and exciting look. Surprisingly, he fails to do the same with a western text. The attempts to follow the script in word and letter seem to have led to a loss of vitality. Nobody can accuse Koothu-p-pattarai of not trying something new each time.

Here too it gives the audience something to chew on. But this is theatre where the script has been given paramount importance, and not, as the group professes as its aim, ``where space, movement and choreography become more important to the action than literary content or dialogue."

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