A star-studded cast comes to Anaheim in May when Mediasphere and Shailja Productions present, The Blue Mug: About Memories and What We Make Of Them, a comedy by renowned Indian director, Atul Kumar.
Bollywood stars Konkona Sen Sharma, Rajat Kapoor, Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak, Sheeba Chadha, and Munish Bhardwaj explore the power of memories and the ways in which they define us in this intimately candid play. “I am playing myself on stage,” says Pathak. “We are truly playing ourselves.”
Conceptualized in 2002, the play debuted in early 2003 and has toured internationally to rave reviews. Bollywood actor Sharma joined the cast in July 2009 after meeting with Kumar and actor Chadha in Delhi.
Kumar’s play is inspired by the book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, written by English neurologist, Oliver Sacks. Sacks’ book is composed of clinical case studies detailing his patients’ instances of memory loss resulting from various neurological disorders.
One chapter of the book, “The Lost Mariner” is re-enacted in the play by Sharma and Shorey, who explore the relationship between a neurologist and her patient, a man whose extraordinary loss of recent memories has resulted in his being isolated in an era of time. He vividly recalls memories of events up until 1945 and is mentally trapped in that year. The rest of the cast juxtapose this relationship by narrating their own personal memories, struggling to define themselves from their seemingly accurate recollections of past events and experiences.
In describing the way in which he encouraged the actors to access and confront their memories, Kumar explains, “The whole process started looking like a therapy session actually but then we are friends and have been working together for the last 15 to 20 years, so there was a certain level of ease with each other. Memories which sometimes the actors were not aware of themselves starting to come up, things which they had censored themselves.”
Kumar describes his play as a “true reflection of experimental theater.” Unlike traditional Indian theater, his play does not originate from, or refer to, a script. The play is carried out without any sets and relies wholly upon narration and body movement to explore its themes.
The structure of the play was built entirely upon the personal memories gleaned from the actors themselves and improvisation upon common themes that came up during brainstorming sessions and rehearsals—childhood memories of playing in open spaces on terraces in India, first loves, violent experiences, and memories recalled as part of larger, and in some instances ancient, events. “Memories moved from smaller to larger, from personal, to very banal. Sometimes the memories were extremely funny, sometimes extremely grave,” Kumar says.
Comic moments are interspersed with tragedy as each actor tells of their own personal experiences. The complexity of these memories and the emotions they spark are expressed to the audience creatively using minimal props.
Critics have praised Shorey for his particularly convincing performance as a neurologically impaired patient, praising his performance as “nothing short of brilliance.”
When asked of his own defining memories from the past, Kumar offers many, one of his most powerful memories being the birth of his four-year-old daughter. He appreciates the limitless number of memories that might have potentially shaped the person he has become and his chosen career. However, Kumar also recognizes the dilemma in defining ourselves wholly by what we remember.
He suggests that memory is ultimately a falsehood, arbitrary in its recollections and essentially unreliable. “We realize that it’s completely scientific, that we obviously can’t remember everything. It is equally important to forget as it is to remember,” he says. “Sometimes there are things that we desire to forget, things that we should forget for our well being … the element of falsehood is so intrinsic and so organic to the idea of memory in man.
“We discover that all memories are actually false, acts of imagination, we make it up as we go along.”
Saturday, May 8, 7 p.m. ICC, 525 Los Coches St., Milpitas. Tickets: (408) 934-1130; [email protected].
Sunday, May 9, 6:30 p.m. Servite High School Theatre, 1952 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. $35, $45, $55, $65. Tickets: (562) 860-1135, (714) 994-4360.
For more information, go to www.thebluemugplay.com.