Centre Stage Creations’ presentation of The Gathered Leaves by Ruchika Theatre Group (New Delhi) warmed the hearts of the audience, but other reasons add to our appreciation of it. Director Feisal Alkazi likes to pick acclaimed contemporary plays in English from abroad – as in his last visit here – which gives us the rare opportunity in India these days to see good works by authors often unfamiliar to us. And his flexibility in staging approach – performing it in willing people’s living rooms in Delhi – places him among the select few who attempt intimate spatial challenges.
The up-and-coming British actor-dramatist Andrew Keatley wrote Gathered Leaves in 2015 and received mixed reviews. But I found nothing average in his writing, though admittedly he chose a commonplace situation, of a family reunion to celebrate the paterfamilias’ 75th birthday, where the grand old man has an important announcement to make. Adapted to a Delhi context, it sounded not only identifiable, but Keatley’s conversations (which Alkazi hardly changed, other than a few political allusions to the UK) perfectly believable in our society. We could relate to the interactions and powerplay among three generations without any feeling of foreignness.
The grandfather, recently diagnosed with dementia (Yogesh Verma, reprising a similar character from Ruchika’s Goodbye, Forever!, therefore a bit of a deja vu for me), his autistic son (sensitively drawn by Ashish Dhameja) and non-resident granddaughter of Indo-Cameroonian parentage (Lavanya Sinha, with just the right French accent) took centrestage. The frazzled grandmother (Radhika Alkazi), the doctor son who takes care of them (Sanjiv Desai), his estranged wife (Nandini Sra), their two teenage children, and his resentful sister who walked out 17 years ago when her father made racist comments on her lover, filled out the household. As in every home universally, affection alternated with misunderstandings, recriminations with reconciliation, the cast’s naturalism worthy of applause in an ensemble of equals. In spite of the feel-good ending, clear signals kept flashing of the dangers of domestic patriarchal dogma.
A couple of criticisms linger. Dhameja looked too young for someone in his fifties, almost like his brother’s son. And for such experienced actors, too many small glitches in cues and false starts frequently broke the spell.
(From The Times of India, 21 February 2020)