Desire and the tragedies that result from indulging it, and equally from repressing it, formed the theme of two early 20th-century classics that revisited local theatre after a decade. Ha-ja-ba-ra-la, from Chakdaha, celebrates its 55th anniversary with a Bengali adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire under the Elms, while The Creative Arts had Garcia Lorca’s House of Bernarda Alba virtually tailormade to inspire its all-women wing.
Dramatist-director Chandan Sen titles his transplantation simply as Ipsā (compared to Sudipto Chatterjee’s Bāsanā Brikshamule), placing it in rural Bengal with the same outline, of a 75-year-old peasant who marries a second time, and his young bride gets attracted to his son, nearer her age. Sen concentrates on the primal symbolism of fertility: the farmer who successfully tills his fields to yield rich harvests is also proud of his virility that produces children. His son cannot bear the father’s obsession as life-giver, because he feels it has betrayed his mother, doubly so when his stepmother becomes pregnant. Greed, lust and revenge run rampant.
Even though Ipsā boasts a star in the son’s role, Debshankar Halder does not permit himself to overpower the others, presenting a creditably natural portrait. Bindiya Ghosh proves a match for him, depicting the new wife as a cunning manipulator. Sen ensures uniformly high acting standards from everyone else, but a little girl, Debapriya Basu, steals the show, without any affectations in the cameo of a street entertainer.
Ramanjit Kaur directed Burning Bubbles as a site-specific performance at the Harrington Street Arts Centre, to which theatre made a much-awaited comeback after a long hiatus. She set it in four spaces, separating the audience gathered in the hall into three groups that saw scenes inside three rooms by turns. The first room came closest to Lorca’s aims, expressing the cruelty of social and familial conformism suppressing women’s desires, through a scary sensory attack with imagery of blood and blackness. The two other rooms showcased childhood memories and latent impulses.
No attempt was made to tell the story of the daughters in Lorca’s play. Instead, Ramanjit got her actresses, speaking Hindi, English, Bengali and Punjabi, to behave as if subjects on display in an exhibition, captured in surreal milieus. Various technologies aided this effect: Sarathi Das’s tactile and organic installations, projections of video art by Philip Gordon, Daulat Vaid’s pinpoint lighting design using LEDs, and Dipankar Chaki’s ambient soundscape. The cast let their inhibitions go in this new experience for them after three previous proscenium productions.
(From The Telegraph, 27 February 2016)