Lounging in the relaxing darkness of a theatre hall, after a hectic week, as actors on stage entertain you for hours – can you think of a better mood refresher?
Last Saturday at Gyan Manch, Mad About Drama gave the theatre lovers of Kolkata the evening of “Four Pegs Down”. From the get-go with Soumya Mukherji walking up to the stage with his stand-up act till the last curtain, time and time again, the theatre crowd erupted into involuntary laughter of diverse intensity. As promised by the organizers, our diaphragm was treated with a mood-lifting exercise routine throughout the evening.
The opening act was a liberal adaptation of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. This 63 year old classic got a funny twist and became Hum aur Godot by The New Sense. The Bengali and Marwari translation of Vladimir and Estragon tickled all the right spots of Kolkata‘s routinely observable and amusing Bengali-Marwari chemistry. After the stage appearance of Pozzo and Lucky, things simply went into another dimension and the ending left a void that demands answers. And we just have the right person to help us out.
BongRong: Hello Raunaq. Thanks for talking to us. Can you explain to our readers, what exactly is an ‘absurdist’ play?
Raunaq: Putting it in a very simple way, absurdist play or theatre of the absurd is a form of theatre where the conventional way of developing a plot or the characters does not really exist. It does not have a definite line of plot and hence not even a definite ending. What it deals with is the absurdity and tragedy of human existence.
As Samuel Beckett says, “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful”
BongRong: Taking into account that Waiting for Godot is an absurdist play, what has been your personal interpretation?
Raunaq: Being the harbinger of absurd theatre, Waiting for Godot has had numerous interpretations from all around the world. A school of thought also believes that ‘Godot’ happens to be God, for whom we keep waiting. But I do not completely agree to this. My personal interpretation of Godot is that of fate. Two men who represent mankind at large, happen to be waiting for fate to turn things around for them. They come across the adversities of life in the form of Lucky and Pozzo who enter as master and servant. In the First Act we see Lucky being driven forward by his master. He never speaks but has many things to say. All he does is follow his master’s command. This shows the despair we often face, when we try to adapt ourselves to the wrong rather than protest against it.
Although in the Second Act it is Lucky who guides his master, who by then has turned blind. Here again you see how fate keeps changing our lives.
So for me Waiting for Godot is about the human existence where, we all are ‘waiting’ for our fate to do the trick, rather than believing in our own selves.
BongRong: We all know about this cultural and mental conflict between Bengalis and Marwaris. How did you decide to tap into the comical element of it?
Raunaq: As you’ve said it already, we are all aware of the continuous cultural conflict between the Bengalis and the Marwaris. I’ve been a witness to a few and believe me it’s always been extremely comical. We wanted to place two men who are poles apart from each other. We wanted their personalities and dialect to be contradictory. So we zeroed in on a Bengali poet, who’s a conservative and inhibited man, while on the other hand there was this Marwari dalal, who is loud and flamboyant in nature.
It was a tragic experience for the two to be in company of each other on a deserted railway platform. It is here that the comic element popped up.
Co-incidentally the actors playing the roles also happened to be a Marwari and a Bengali.
BongRong: No wonder it looked so natural. Moving forward, some people feel the ending was too abrupt. We, on the other hand, feel that some of the audience couldn’t quite recover from the brain-jerk they got when the second act started. Therefore, they got completely perplexed by the ending. Would you please help us explain?
Raunaq: As I said in the beginning, an absurd play, never has a definite ending. But we were very conscious about the fact, while rehearsing, that it would be hard for the audience to conceive an ending to the play as written by Beckett. Although we did keep the text constant in the end, when all the characters on stage say, “let’s go”. But then we added an epilogue that is taken from the play ‘The Good Woman of Setzuan’ by Bertolt Brecht, in order to explain ourselves. So when the characters actually fall after saying, “let’s go”, it implied to the fact that we’re all nothing but puppets. Much like what Beckett himself had described Vladimir and Estragon as- Puppets.
I wouldn’t agree that the audience at large felt the ending was very abrupt, or for that matter, with the ‘brain-jerk’ of the second act. What actually was a bit hard for the audience to follow was when we started enacting the text, that is when Lucky enters as a clown. But I think by the time the act ends it is very clear to the audience what we actually wanted to portray, and as a performer I’d say the loud applause and cheer in the end was evident of that fact.
BongRong: Have to agree to that! Thank you for your time. That was a very dynamic presentation and we are totally looking forward to your next production. Until then…
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A drawing room and a bed room on stage, 4 couples stuck in interesting situations and a Neil Simon script, that’s all M.A.D. took to crack up the audience in uncontrollable fits of laughter in the latter part of the evening.
After sharing years of married life and years of divorced life with a child to boot, when they met to discuss their daughter’s custody in a California hotel suite, the chemistry which was born was nothing but a humorous word-fight with the intention of establishing dominance. But, after sharing so many years together, isn’t there a hidden fire of passion lurking somewhere? What will happen? Who will win? Would the old-attraction towards each other play a role? That was the first couple of M.A.D.’s Four Pegs Down.
A man wakes up on the hotel’s bed to find a woman sleeping beside him and damn! That’s not his wife. But his wife was to reach the hotel this morning. He tries to wake up the female form on the bed and completely freaks out when he realizes the one liter booze has vanished completely and the woman is not sleeping, she is simply passed out. Wife arrives and the husband’s desperate struggle to keep the other woman hidden in the bedroom brought out roars of laughter from the audience. What will happen when the wife finds out about her husband’s adulterous escapade?
The third playlet of the night had an injured woman and her husband in a fretful mood after an accident on the tennis court that caused a foot injury. The annoyed husband was trying his best to put the blame on the other couple, with whom they were out on the trip. The two women were friends but the husbands just couldn’t get along. When the hidden hatred of the two men came out, it was a non-stop flow of jaw-paining entertainment till the end.
To find out more about Four Pegs Down, M.A.D.’s adaption of California Suite, we are lucky to have the director duo, Soumendra and Soham with us.
BongRong: That was a laughter-riot! Congratulations on your directorial debut.
Soumendra & Soham: Thank you so much.
BongRong: So, how did the chemistry work out between you two?
Soumendra & Soham: We know each other since school and we have been acting since that time. We founded M.A.D together, so we have been working together for a really long time. Naturally, the chemistry has always been there. This time our chemistry just came out in a different field as we collaborated and directed together.
BongRong: Why did you choose a Neil Simon play to begin your directorial career with?
Soumendra & Soham: First and foremost, he is a brilliant writer. Basically, from time to time we keep reading various scripts. As M.A.D., we have done a lot of original scripts, but at the same time, we also look to adapt scripts that already exist and scripts that can be staged.
We came across Neil Simon and we read some of his scripts. As a team we were really excited with the idea of staging a Neil Simon play. The script was so well written that as theatre people, as a theatre actor, as a director you just want to do one of the scripts. That was the first reason.
Secondly, Neil Simon’s writing hasn’t been staged in Calcutta, as such. If we talk about Bangalore, the kind of theatre culture that is there, Neil Simon is pretty popular, but not in Calcutta. To tell you honestly, in the beginning, we were a little bit apprehensive about how the audience is going to receive it. Because the tone and the comedy are very American, so, the humour too, is very American. It’s very gritty. We were not sure whether the audience will like it or not. But we were like – let’s do it! Since we are having fun we were pretty sure that the audience will also have fun. So, that’s how the entire Neil Simon thing came about.
BongRong: The original script of ‘California Suite’ has 4 stories. But you guys changed it to 3 stories in your ‘Four Pegs Down’…
Soumendra & Soham: Well, when we interpreted the script for the first time, we basically adapted. The reason why we staged Four Pegs Down and not California Suite….we changed a lot of references which were may be too American. For example there were references to Baseball, and other things. These are things that an Indian audience wouldn’t be able to relate to. From there, since we were doing an adaptation…there were four stories, but what we wanted to do is to make the play crisper. It’s a comedy and the audience keeps on laughing. When they get out of the auditorium or go back home, we want them to feel – yes, we laughed a lot- but there is also a lot of gravity involved which is put across very beautifully in this script.
Regarding, why three stories out of four… honestly, it was a director’s decision and we took the call together. It was about making the play ‘Four Pegs Down’ crisper and making it a light-hearted comedy. So, we chose three stories and went ahead with it.
BongRong: ‘Four Pegs Down’, we know how we feel after that! How did you come to decide on the name?
Soumendra & Soham: Because there are four couples. These couples are very different from each other. We thought, in a fun way, they kind of represented different drinks. Initially, we publicised that among the four couples, one was scotch, one was vodka, one was gin and one was ice. We were just working out human emotions and human relationships and human dynamics and what the play is all about. It is based in California, but anyone can relate to the characters and what the characters are feeling.
Four Pegs Down, the name, is because of four couples and it’s a fun play. So, there was not a lot of deep inner connotation behind it. It was more of a fun thing and that was the objective of the play, right from the beginning.
BongRong: So, in the process of adaption, the technical changes that you made, what were the reasons behind it?
Soumendra & Soham: This is an American drawing room comedy and whenever this kind of play has been staged, a drawing room set-up is created on stage. What we wanted was, more than creating a setting, we wanted to keep it very minimal.
Since we have been actors for so long, what both of us decided was to make it a very acting intensive play. So that there is a space with very minimalistic setting and more than the space itself, it would be more about the characters in that space.
The script is very powerful. What we wanted was for the actors to execute the script. Everything else we felt was secondary to this. That was our approach to the play, which usually doesn’t happen with such kind of plays.
To be honest, it makes the play very travel friendly as well. Today if we want to take this play to Bangalore or to Mumbai, we can easily take this play over there. With walls and this and that of a drawing room set-up, we wouldn’t be able to travel with it. Hence it was a logistical decision too, to create the play in a way in which it can be performed anywhere.
BongRong: So, portability was another priority?
Soumendra & Soham: Absolutely! That was another decision we made. Because, see, it’s a fun play. So, this is a play which we would want to stage lots of times. Because of the content, because of the humour, this play can reach out to a much larger audience I believe.
But basically, it’s a very powerful script and we wanted our actors to act their heart out on stage.
BongRong : It was an out and out pleasure to laugh our lungs out with your Four Pegs Down. Thank you for your time and we are looking forward to your next show. Until then…
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