IndiStage, the Bay Area’s newest South Asian theater, is bringing its production of Mahesh Dattani’s “30 Days in September” back after a successful run in fall 2010 to packed houses and standing ovations. The play is directed by Rooben Morgan, and features a stellar all-South Asian cast.
“30 Days in September” is a dark and gripping tale about a crisis that remains in the shadows of many communities; sexual abuse of children within families. Dattani, the famous playwright, who is also known for the direction in the 2004 Indian film “Morning Raga in English.”
IndiStage was created by Rooben Morgan to bring fresh new voices across the South Asian performance arena. “There are many stories that are not being told,” says Morgan, is a third-generation Indian from Singapore. “We see so many stock portrayals of South Asians. It is often the IT folk, or the uber-conservative first-generation Indians who are dealing with ‘Westernized’ children who want to rap, party, or become musicians.
“The South Asian persona is a highly complex one. We have barely started addressing the effects of post-colonialism, and here we are, being touted as the ‘model immigrant.’ Somewhere in the middle of all this is the South Asian who is trying to find out who he or she really is—the identity is as complex as the shifting geo-political borders we are negotiating,” says Morgan. “IndiStage is a performative forum and community unit that aim to give voice, shape, and form the diverse and colorful experience that is the South Asian narrative. And that is one of the things that drew me to ‘30 Days in September’—its unique voice.”
The story follows Mala (Nandini Minocha) who was abused as a child. She lives with her mother, Shanta (Rashmi Rustagi and Ranjita Chakravarty), whose escape from reality is religion. Unexpectedly comes along Deepak (Abhimanyu Katyal), with a hopeful promise to change everything with love. The limits of his commitment to her are tested as deeper and darker family secrets begin to emerge. Mala’s Uncle is played by Rooben Morgan.
“What drew me to the play is how clearly and blatantly Mahesh Dattani deals with incest and pedophelia,” says Rustagi, a seasoned actress of the stage and film. “What attracted me to play Shanta’s character was how powerful she is in her powerlessness. She is as much responsible for Mala’s victimization as the perpetrator and yet she has had to look away in order to survive her own pain. I was drawn to the challenge of portraying the conflict in her character.”
“30 Days in September” was originally commissioned by RAHI (Recovering And Healing from Incest), a Delhi-based NGO that provides support to female victims of incest. It is reported as an interesting coincidence that Dattani first discussed the play with Lillete Dubey on the sets of “Monsoon Wedding,” which also deals with the issue of child abuse. Since the first production of the play in 2001, RAHI has used it to spread awareness of the wide prevalence of incest in Indian households and to help women overcome the trauma inflicted on them by one of their own family.
Minocha is no new face to the Bay Area theatre scene or the Fringe Festival. A resident of San Jose, she was last seen in PUS’s (Performers Under Stress) Cancer Cells, and played Mala in the play’s West Coast Premiere in 2010 with stunning range and dexterity.
Rustagi is strong and convincing. With her roots in theater and radio, Rustagi is active in the Bay Area theater community: She has been in productions with Theatre Works (“Baby Taj”) and Naatak’s (“Bravely Fought the Queen and Mataji”). She has been in several films, including the feature films “Perfect Mismatch,” “Chains,” “Khanda,” and “Karma.”
Chakravarty brings a gritty honesty and rawness to the character in a performance that is both strong and complex. Ranjita has appeared in productions with Naatak, the Marin Fringe Festival, and the Stanford Drama Department. She has also acted in feature films (“Perfect Mismatch,” “Bicycle Bride”).
Morgan, who plays Man and directs, was last seen as Shanker in “Dancing On Glass” by Ram Ganesh Gamatham. He was also featured in Siren Tehatre’s preview of “SITA: Daughter of the Dirt” and in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer –winning “Rabbit Hole.” A graduate of performance studies from UC Berkeley and a resident of Richmond, Morgan dons the multiple roles of Man with admirable dexterity. In his portrayal of Uncle, Rooben manages to penetrate and portray the character of the sexual predator with uncanny ease, comfort, and commitment. His portrayal is speckled with a muted eeriness that permeates his performance.
Thursday, Sept. 8, Saturday, Sep 10, Tuesday, September 13, and Friday, Sept. 16. Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. $7-$10. (415) 673-3847. www.sffringe.org.