Group: Natya-anan

Director: Chandan Sen

Dramatist: Jerome Lawrence, Robert Lee

Recommended: 4 stars


Playhouse Khelben?

Group: Shailushik

Director: Kamaleswar Mukherjee

Dramatization: Padmanabha Dasgupta

Source: Durrenmatt


Bengali groups seem keen on reviving foreign works that made a name in the mid-20th century. Two of these date to virtually the same year, 1955-56: the American play Inherit the Wind and the Swiss German novella A Dangerous Game, both dealing with the miscarriage of justice.


No prizes for guessing why Chandan Sen translated the former into Natya-anan’s A-pabitra. Jerome Lawrence (one of the original co-authors, with Robert E. Lee) said much later that this celebrated fictive account of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial in 1925 defended freedom of thought, not so much the ostensible subject of religion vs science. For uninitiated readers, the sensational case accused a schoolteacher in Tennessee of discussing Darwin’s theory of evolution, breaking the state law espousing creationism. Lawrence and Lee adopted this elaborate ploy to criticize McCarthy’s post-War Communist witchhunt.


Sen also uses scenes from the hugely famous classic film by Stanley Kramer, which influenced popular opinion on these matters greatly. In fact, since most spectators here do not know this post-history, I think Sen should add a short epilogue telling them of the trial’s aftereffects. Other than that and a few slips in dialogue, his stellar cast – Sabyasachi Chakrabarti as the defence counsel and Asit Basu as the prosecutor (both in the photo), supported by his wife (Bhadra Basu), Tuhin Mukherjee as the teacher, Torsha Banerjee as his fiancee, Shantilal Mukherjee as her bigoted father, and director Sen himself as the agnostic journalist – bring the script alive in these times of assault on independent thinking. In our culture, of course, the religion issue also remains a live wire.


Shailushik’s Playhouse Khelben? Indianizes Friedrich Durrenmatt’s novella, which inspired Vijay Tendulkar to write Shāntata! Court Chale Āhe (a completely original play wrongly labelled an adaptation by those who haven’t read the source). Durrenmatt presents a successful executive who takes shelter in a dilapidated house after his car breaks down, where the owner allows him to stay overnight on condition that he playacts a court case – which is how his retired friends, all former judicial officers, entertain themselves in the evenings. In the game the outsider rapidly admits to his own real sins, and ultimately hangs himself. However, the dramatizer Padmanabha Dasgupta inserts one of the oldest cliches in the ending, making it a bit of a ghostly copout.


A Dangerous Game works as fiction, but not as two-hour drama, because we find it rather incredible that our culpable protagonist drinks so liberally and opens up so readily with strangers. Playhouse Khelben? almost becomes an Alcoholics Anonymous manifesto. Dasgupta could have consulted Durrenmatt’s own dramatization from the 1970s, about which most are unaware. On the other hand, the cast directed by Kamaleswar Mukherjee fit into character perfectly, and the realistic set designed by Mukherjee is an attractive rarity on the Bengali stage. They certainly express Durrenmatt’s grotesque travesty of the legal system.


(From The Times of India, 14 December 2018)