William Shakespeare’s words are immortal because of how they capture many a human being’s internal struggles, foibles, fears, failings, and successes. There is something identifiable in each character, plot, and story that makes the lines written hundreds of years ago resonate within us. When a writer is able to capture the essence of the human experience, it is then that the usual markers of identity fall to the wayside. Shorn of this ornamentation, we can truly experience the universality of Shakespeare’s words and that of the human experience itself.
Tim Supple’s directorial venture of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” attempts to capture this universality. This is an Indian adaptation of the play with a cast of Indian actors speaking English and seven other Indian languages including Malayalam, Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil.
“I was asked by the British Council in India to do this play,” he says during a telephone conversation, adding “the part that I enjoyed tremendously was the one year that I spent traveling in the country. I was so impressed by the resourcefulness of the actors, who improvise, given severe resource limitations. The country is a fascinating amalgam of the old and the new. When I walk in Mumbai, I see many wearing clothes that were probably worn hundreds of years ago, whereas there are others who wear Western outfits. This mix of the old and the modern is reflected in the fascinating ways in which 2000-year old theatrical traditions are morphed when they are presented in the modern setting.” From this conversation, I learn that he found the process of casting more daunting than he had imagined. The physicality evident in the theatrcial abilities of the Indian actors who could dance, sing, do puppetry and kalari has been used skilfully throughout the production.
Joy Fernandes who plays the role of Bottom wonders, “I doubt if Shakespeare wrote this play for the British; perhaps he wrote it for Indians. Kings, queens, parents running the marriage system, the class system that exists all around us—as Indians, we can identify with all of these struggles.”
Archana Ramaswamy who plays the role of Tiania, the queen of fairies says that the role lets her hold nothing back physically or emotionally. Her background as a bharatanatyam artist has also been exploited to develop movement vocabulary for this role.
Supple says, “With the multiplicity of languages in India, it was easy for an outsider like me to bring about a national quality to this play. I did not get caught up in the primacy of one language over another. I hope that this productin is able to convey the power of theater for its own sake”.
After a successful run at the Roundhouse Theatre in London and shows across India, we get a chance to watch this “dream” onstage in San Francisco soon.
Directed by Tim Supple. Set and Costume Design: Sumant Jayakrishnan; Music Direction: Devissaro; Lighting Design: Zuleikha Chaudhari; Choreography: D. Padmakumar and M. Palani
Runs May 6—June 1. Tuesday-Saturday evening, 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. $35-$80. Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Running time: 2 hrs., 37 min. (includes intermission) www.shnsf.com
|Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is on the editorial board of India Currents.|