Should art reflect our reality or should it transport us away from it? EnActe Arts staging of Tagore’s The Kingdom of Cards does both. This light hearted satirical musical dance drama was originally called Tasher Desh in Bengali, literally Card Country, and inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Tagore wrote this around 1933, a time which marked the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler. It was also influenced by the backdrop of the oppression of British colonial rule in India and the struggle for independence. The parallels between the Third Reich and a people so regimented that they had been reduced to two-dimensional playing cards forever moving in box like formations, is hard to miss.
Struggling with the bonds of conformity
The Kingdom of Cards is a charming tale of a Prince on an adventure to a land inhabited by cards. Director Ranjita Chakravorty’s passion shines through as this whirlwind musical explores the dichotomy of contemporary society. Desperate for adventure, a bold-mannered prince decides to set out for parts unknown and ends up somewhere else: a nation filled with walking, talking cards, all dead to the world and insistent on adhering to their many rules and laws. These rules almost immediately start to fall apart under the prince’s skeptical scrutiny, and soon, the Cards are dressing like humans, dancing and singing, and even falling in love while their whole world changes around them.
In Tagore’s musical the King of the Cards is not a sinister megalomaniac but is somewhat bewildered and unsure of himself at times and, like his subjects, they both have been inured to mindlessly adhere to the rules. Ultimately of course these cards transform into the human beings they always were by simply allowing their innate desires to overcome the confines of their rules. Interestingly enough the change is brought about by the women in the kingdom. Tagore, the early feminist always recognized the subjugation of women and inequality they faced. Tagore’s’ music is brought alive through Siddhartha Chattopadhyay’s brilliant contemporary interpretation and the fluid imagery of the dance ensemble, ably choreographed by the Maestro Sanjib Bhattacharya.
A restless prince goes adventuring
Be it fascism through Tagore’s music, the essence of feminism through Sita’s soulful chants, the rise of Bollywood through the lens of Goan jazz, sex trafficking against the backdrop of Hindustani classical, or the adventures of a 10-year-old detective through contemporary world music, every theme EnActe explores resonates with music.
Showtimes: Fri 11th Oct 8 p.m.; Sat 12th Oct 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Sun 13th Oct 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Cubberley Theatre, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-kingdom-of-cards-tickets-66390777603