Tuesday, May 8, 2012

so i said something like this instead...

From what we know, water flows as it relates to gravity. It lulls animals into long hibernations as it cools down. It reduces the skin to blisters as it heats up. It is relentlessly volatile, constantly on the move; but above all, water is known for its willingness to change from one form to another.
What we don’t normally know of water is that it can sit in blue rectangular pools on the edge of the stage, greeting audiences as they enter a theatre. Something similar would happen to you if you entered the Naga Theatre for a performance of tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses this May.
Studio 7’s plays have always sparkled when it comes to sets and costumes, each time inviting viewers to expect the unexpected. Their acute attention to detail manages to release a generous dose of imagination on stage, making the theatre experience incredibly vivid for the audience.
So when I saw that the supremely talented set director Ludmilla Hungerhuber had decided to go minimal this time, I was initially a little disheartened, unaware of just how big a part the pool of water was going to play. As things unfold, water extends itself beyond a mere motif, becoming the primary character; taking centre stage, water helps bind all the different tales together into one coherent performance.
Inevitably, most of the drama revolves around the tiny pool and director Sabine Lehmann has done a commendable job of engaging her troupe in a number of techniques, stretching conventional notions of acting.
Characters wade through water, dip in it, drown in it, and crash into it. A plastic tube floats on it, a golden skipping rope sinks into it, oars push against it, candles glide on it. Apart from offering a visual treat, water also serves a larger, more symbolic role. It washes Midas’s greed, brings Ceyx onto shore, and delivers Narcissus to his troubling reflection. Water is caring and cruel—it destroys as well as heals, punishes as well as purges—altogether playing a significant role in the metamorphoses of these characters.
Actors swiftly manoeuvre their way in, out of, and around water. Memorable moments come in Karma’s hideous grin while he gathers gold from the pool as the greedy Midas, in his portrayal of the equally crazed and nervous Vertumnus who makes a convincing fool of himself before Pomona,  in Nirab Rimal’s naive Narcissus filled with longing and disdain towards the water that at once offers and denies him his one true love, in Samuna KC’s intense performance of an Alcyone debilitated by love and loss.
While the major characters in each of the tales do their part to sustain the performance, it is the minor chameleonic characters that add a touch of brilliance, deftly changing into different roles within minutes. While Divya Dev Pant’s narrator is charming with a subtle, restrained quality, his portrayal of Bacchus—grapes dangling from the ears—brings a long-dead Freddie Mercury to life. Anupam Sharma’s Iris—in a deliciously flamboyant Krishna-like avatar—is a treat for the eyes. Rajendra Shrestha manages to take on almost every deity that resides on Olympus, projecting a comic wrath through a false but glorious beard accompanied by elaborate costumes. Aashant Sharma’s portrayal of Silenas and Sleep prove how natural an actor he is—body, expressions and dialogues jut out with humour sending the audience into roars of laughter. Lehmann and Hungerhuber immerse themselves completely in their characters and manage to grasp your attention all through their limited time on stage. Lehmann, especially, has the uncanny ability to speak with her eyes, drawing in the audience even when her character is seated silently in a corner.
This adaptation of the play Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman dramatises some familiar stories from Greek and Roman mythologies originally written by Ovid that many of us have grown up hearing. It is a vibrant medley of tales of transformation, weaving effortlessly in and out of drama, comedy and tragedy, making viewers laugh between heartache. But sometimes, as an audience, you might be left thinking that it’s too much of a medley.
While the tales of Narcissus and Echo and Alcyone and Ceyx evoke the ancient civilisations from which they emerge, those of Midas and Phaeton are a concoction of the ancient and the modern, western and Nepali in the development of setting, costumes as well as mannerisms. This flitting between pure representation and hybridisation may confuse viewers—it might have served the performance better had they stuck to a thorough Nepalification/modernisation which would have added relevance and context for the viewers.
Nevertheless, performances allure, and the cast’s bold decision to play with water on stage makes this rendition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses worth a watch.
Scenes from Metamorphoses will be performed at the Naga Theatre, Vajra Hotel, at 7:15 pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until May 22

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