Ruchika Theatre Group and IIC New Playrights Series

Phoenix the Play

a review by Lola Chatterji

L to R: Shekhar (Zain Alkazi), Suni (Charanya), Janaki (Avery Cahurey)  Narain (Manohar Khushalani)

Phoenix, written by Anoushka Ravishankar, directed by Feisal Alkazi, is indeed a challenging play and it is no surprise that this amateur group was not able to give enough time and thought to its production. The plot is concerned with the reaction of a family to the accidental death of the only son while rehearsing a street play. What strikes me immediately is a major flaw. The basic event is unthinkable. No play, performed either as a street play or a sophisticated stage production, EVER uses REAL fire on stage. Fire is shown by lighting, smoke, mimed reactions of the victims. As Suni, one of the characters says, she laughed and laughed when Bhayya wrapped a yellow cloth round himself pretending he was burning, and tried to unwind it while rehearsing.

        The family consists of Narayan the father, Janaki, the mother, Priya the daughter-in-law whose husband, Madhav died in the burning accident, his little sister Sunand (Suni), and, most important of all, Shekhar, Madhav’s friend who was with him when the accident occurred. Manisha, a bit part, is a colleague from the Youth dramatic group – romantically interested in Shekhar. Shekhar has obviously become just like a member of the family and despite coming from a wealthy home, prefers to spend his time with it. There has been a romantic attraction between him and Priya which they didn’t allow to grow. In this emotionally charged atmosphere, the family gradually learns to come to terms with the situation.

        Why 'Phoenix’? Act 3, a few months later, shows preparations for the marriage of  Priya and Shekhar. Shekhar is now becoming Madhav. He suddenly finds he suffers from the same allergy to cucumber as he violently scratches himself, and then is seen, hair oiled, wearing the polyester shirt which Priya objected to. Unfortunately, the actor playing Shekhar, could not achieve the maturity required for such a role. Scenes with Priya didn’t come off.

 

Daughter-in-Law (Mahima) Father (Manohar) Mother (Averi)

        The group needs to spend much more time on voice production. While on the whole, the performances were good, a great deal of important dialogue was lost as voices didn’t carry. The cast faced the problem of having to carry their scripts around with them as this was a `Visual enactment’ not a full-fledged play: at the same time, a closely-knit family suddenly faced with the tragic loss of the only son, would not be shouting at each other but talking quietly letting body language carry the significance of the death on each member. A trained actor can send a whisper to the end of the auditorium. The only character who could be heard throughout was the father, Narayan. As Shekhar was with Madhav at the time of the accident, he is blamed for allowing it to happen.

        The script does call for blackouts between scenes and they came disconcertingly abruptly. Weren’t the faders working? One important scene between Shekhar and Priya needed special lighting; it was at night and yet their facial expressions needed to be seen clearly. They weren’t. Also. minor scene and costume  changes were required to show the passage of time, especially for the last act.

 

Manisha (Smita Mazumdar) Shekhar (Zain)

        What would help audiences is a sheet giving some idea of the play—synopsis, names of cast and backstage members, sequence of acts and scenes, length of performance. A simple page with enough printouts for an expected audience shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange.

As Ruchika intends to present more plays written by new playwrights, it is important that they get as good a presentation as possible.

 

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Editor: Manohar Khushalani

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