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Friday, August 03, 2001

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Acting and delivery carry the show


The monologue presents the character's soul in action through conversation in a dramatic situation. Mounting it may be simple but it is difficult to pull it off. Masquerade did exactly that last week, writes ELIZABETH ROY.

MASQUERADE'S STYLE is to take on the difficult and the challenging. Urban Legends I & II, a two-day theatre event from the group was perhaps not Chennai's idea of fun or entertainment, in the usual sense of those words. On day one, Urban Legends I - six short monologues packed into an hour of performance was, to say the least, a tight experience.

A monologue presents the character's soul in action through his/her conversation in a dramatic situation. With little scope for introduction or character building the actor has to establish intimacy with the audience. The concept, which began a long time ago in the history of theatre, has evolved into a popular performance mode. In terms of logistics, mounting it is as simple and financially viable as it is difficult to pull it off. And Masquerade did pull it off rather nicely.

Sriya Chari welcomed the audience with her ``Mrs. Sorken''. She began with the etymology of the word ``drama'' and ended sharing with the audience the lack of excitement and the meaninglessness of her life with Mr. Sorken. It was a performance highly charged and well done. Unfortunately, there was only so much she could do with a piece, which lacked depth for the most part.

Paul Mathew took the stage as a janitor who finds himself alone at a podium. He imagines himself speaking and giving advice to an auditorium full of people. It was a piece very sensitively rendered.

``A Sermon'' had T. T. Srinath as the preacher, a particularly juicy piece for an actor who looks the part. He could have realised the full potential of the piece if he had exaggerated it out of proportion. A magician or a superhuman can go overboard all the way and still get very accepted - kind of like the Miracle Network channel showbiz that has viewers quite entrapped.

The face that `Legends' launched is Kamini Mathai who with her pluck and energy had the attention of the audience. She had them listening to her story, empathising with her totally while she cleaned toilets for a living or in the later piece as she came alive as Barbie with her feet made for high heeled shoes! It is a pity she wasn't nudged on to the stage earlier. No points for candles hid under bushels!

The best of the monologues was ``Gas''. Yog Japee in his customary style directed himself and did a stunning job. He had to help him further a particularly powerful and sensitive script - which reflected on his brother's transformations, the mindlessness of war, the way countries (and leaders) manipulate the images of war and build rationality against all reason... His moves within the confines of space were so carefully choreographed and his body language so good that he had the audience sitting up, thinking deep and feeling miserable. Yog is an actor and director who gives of his best and is committed to bettering every previous performance.

The seventh piece had the group together in a park on their separate benches portraying their distance and inability to communicate with each other through their monologues. ``A Talk in the Park'' was a very difficult piece very sleekly done. It helped close the evening on a highlight note.

Most people went into the first day expecting it to be the lesser of the two days, apprehensive that it would not hold their interest. They were most pleasantly surprised. Through the monologues the characters shared with the world their thoughts. It gave us a peek into their lives and emotions. It's a little like being a psychiatrist sans the burden of having to fix the person later!! Krishna Kumar (who with Apsara Walia and Yog Japee helped direct the performances) says, ``The monologue is a nice theatrical mode that could be put to a variety of use from pulpit speech to political propaganda as well as discuss private lives in a humorous way. It also presents the ultimate challenge for an actor to emerge out of his or her shell. It gives confidence to debutante artistes to ply the audience single-handedly.''

Of Urban Legends II, Krishna Kumar says, ``The short plays as a genre are simple yet stunning. The four plays explore man-woman relationships and their fears and suppressions and repressions and tendencies in a way that is related to urbanites and metropolitans.''

Three out of the four plays were done at a private showing a couple of months ago. Directed by Krishna Kumar and Apsara Walia there were Krupasagar Sridharan and Aparna Gopinath in ``Made for a Woman'' living together while preoccupied with their own separate, trivial obsessions. Karthik Srinivasan and Apsara Walia came together as a patient and psychiatrist in a genuinely humorous ``Your Mother's Butt''. Alia Khan and Deesh Mariwala presented ``The Man Who Couldn't Dance'', a deeply moving piece with much potential, which unfortunately failed to come alive at the Museum Theatre.

The evening closed with an adapted version of ``Flop Cop'' (Krupasagar Sridharan and Karthik Srinivasan), an explanation of why everyone loves a dead playwright. Though well designed and performed at a quick pace, the adaptation, which involved mere change of names, could have been worked upon.

Those who came, encouraged by the success of the first day, felt a little let down by Urban Legends II. Though there was really nothing to be found fault with, the show didn't quite take off! There was no feel for pace, there was an obvious lack of energy and no attempt at reaching out to the audience. Perhaps the scripts did not match up to the evening before, either.

For those of us who were there both evenings the experience was worthwhile. The monologue and dialogue showed the loneliness of being in a crowd, the breaking down of community, the atomisation of the individual, and how (if one wants to push it!) these get accentuated in an urban situation because of crowding, a lack of privacy, the domination of built space... There were no sets, only basic lights, and almost no sound effects. The only two things that could carry the show and did were acting and delivery.

In organising this event Masquerade hoped to go beyond performance. ``The evenings are our attempt to make theatre a more social and community-oriented packaging.'' In fact, Masquerade has built a network of friends who interact in varied ways. They have a major sponsor in Citibank, their community partner and annual patron. They also have a host of smaller community partners in Qmax Systems and Tulsi Restaurant. Urban Legends I & II were presented by explocity.com and co-sponsored by Sanjha Choola and Tina Vincent XXL Boutique.

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