Ganakrishti is in the vanguard of a rethinking among Bengali groups, a few of whom have taken the first steps to diversify out of their familiar proscenium surroundings into the intimate spaces of studio theatres. For far too long did group theatre cling to that tried-and-tested safety net. At last, even if as a fledgling movement, some have broken through the fourth wall and come physically closer to their viewers.


Of course, not every play can work in small 50-seaters. One must choose carefully, which director Amitava Dutta has done, adapting Albee’s The Zoo Story as Chiriyākhānār Galpa. In fact he nearly matches the venue of its 1959 premiere in the Werkstatt (studio) of the Schiller Theater, Berlin. Whether there or in the tiny confines of Tripti Mitra Sabhagriha (Paschim Banga Natya Akademi), Albee’s sensational debut generates the shock and awe, with audience at hand-shaking nearness, that an auditorium cannot.


Specially creditable about Dutta’s script is its textual fidelity, while setting it in Kolkata. No trace of foreignness disrupts our concentration. The middle-class publisher Saumya (Swarnendu Sen) arrives at his favourite bench in Mohar Kunja, where he meets the young Jiban (Saptarshi Bhowmick, living in abject conditions in Topsia – not the exact equivalent of Greenwich Village, but never mind). Their conversation and the closure follow Albee almost to the letter.


The acting is taut with tension, as such an encounter between urban strangers can become. But Bhowmick should not intimidate Sen so early if he wants his plan to succeed. Also, it is redundant for Dutta to use recorded canine aggression sounds to prove his point. And follow spotlights at such close quarters hurt the eye – intimate theatre demands lighting different from the stage.


Ganakrishti has not rejected the proscenium, though. It adapts another modern classic, Chekhov’s Seagull, as its “regular” new production. Ujjwal Chattopadhyay borrows his title, Kiritir Notebook, and melodramatic finale from Tennessee Williams’s free but disastrous adaptation, The Notebook of Trigorin, and situates it in Dinajpur, with the lure of Kolkata in the background. Both Williams and Chattopadhyay crucially fail to emphasize Chekhov’s palpable atmospherics.


Director Dutta should slow the pace to dwell on Chekhov’s fabled subtext and vague dialogue, so that we can absorb the melancholy mood of people loving others who desire someone else in a circle of unreciprocated love, and we observe how self-centred, insincere and exploitative artists can be. A quietude helps such characterizations, which only Hillol Chakraborty (the landowner) and Subhasish Mukherjee (Trigorin, the author) cultivate.


(From The Times of India, 5 October 2018)