Report from a Rehearsal

Posted on June 30, 2010



Taking in the sights and sounds from a rehearsal of a forthcoming retrospective of plays…

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JUN 30, 2010 – THE FOURTH WALL IS AN UNKNOWN CONSTRUCT in the terrace of this Alwarpet apartment complex, where Gowri Ramnarayan is shepherding her cast through the penultimate rehearsal of Rural Phantasy. “Shruti, you must remember to get the keerai,” she instructs a player on the margins, about a leafy prop. Meanwhile, the action underway, in the space filling in for the stage, attempts to steer attention back to the 1930s setting of the play. The absence of proscenium and wings makes the corner of the eye privy to parallel narratives on the sidelines – a little girl left out of a kummi song looking longingly at the women swirling at the centre, an actor replenishing his energies with a quick snack of a banana, or the frequent flashes of white from young men in anachronistic T-shirts rearranging their veshtis according to the requirements of forthcoming scenes.

The effect is that of watching a homespun entertainment unfurl in an alfresco venue far removed from a theatre – on the beach perhaps, the audience reclining on blankets as the cast fights to make itself heard over persistent peanut vendors and screaming children racing behind runaway kites. The singers, TM Krishna and Sangeetha Sivakumar, are absent at this rehearsal. Gowri fills in softly, sometimes interspersing the lyrics with instructions. It isn’t uncommon to hear Bharatiyar’s Nenjukku needhiyum breaking down to absorb stage directions without meandering the slightest from the chaste flow of Sindhu Bhairavi. (“Vellamena fade out shakti vel shakti vel!”) The singsong enunciations of the cast, in English delivered in the cadences of Tamil (‘morning’ becomes maarning, ‘ever’ turns into yever), burnish the musicality of the experience.

The full dress rehearsal will no doubt duplicate the intended illusions, but for now, the broken stem of an antenna doubles as a flagpole (during Jhanda ooncha rahe hamara) as well as Gandhi’s walking stick. The Father of the Nation is absent, and the playwright-director’s husband, who has just wandered in, is recruited to fill in. “Konjam elacha Gandhi ille?” he grumbles good-naturedly about his weight. The presence of visiris is a constant reminder of how sultry the evening is, and the imminence of rain bestows an additional element of drama. The first stirrings of breeze are felt as the heroine, named Shakuntalai, declaims, “Hitler is a monster.” Nature seems to approve of the sentiment. The close of the rehearsal, over a full-cast rendition of Vaazhiya senthamizh, is greeted with a similarly serendipitous sign. In the distance, unseasonal fireworks explode into showers of light. It’s a good omen.

The Madras Players and JustUs Repertory present A Gowri Ramnarayan Retrospective. Rural Phantasy (3pm & 7.15pm), Flame of the Forest (3pm & 7.15pm), One Day in Ashada (3pm & 7.15pm). 2, 3, 4 July 2010. Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium, Chennai. For more Information, contact : 9840089030.

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Posted in: Arts: Indian