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Nothing Like Lear: The Clown Cried Alone

September 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Let me begin by saying that I am a novice when it comes to Shakespeare. I have heard/seen/read more appreciation of his works than experienced them first hand. So what follows, is not a response of a bardolater. Also, I haven’t seen Rajat Kapoor’s previous forays like C For Clowns and Hamlet The Clown Prince so would reserve comment on those. The name of the play hinted that my ignorance was not going to come in the way of my experience, but then what’s in a name anyway!

I happened to catch Nothing Like Lear’s 07:30 PM show at Kamani Auditorium on 8th September with friends. The show started at 07:45PM, unlike the reviews which said it would start a little earlier than the scheduled time.

Fifteen minutes into the tale of this one man act, the rambling protagonist on stage had the audience in splits – luring them into prompting his lines as he rebuked them for their cue, much to their joy. The clown’s interaction was a delight, I was with him as he used his body language to full effect and he was self confessedly glad that I was.

Thirty minutes of a chuckle here and a “current affairs joke” there, I caught my mind doing a thought experiment. It revised all the jokes on which I laughed out loud and realized that most of them were stand-alone, without context and would have worked even if this was to be restricted to a stand up comedy act.

The synopsis told me that it was going to be a tragicomedy, so did not pursue any further with my psychic inquiry, half hoping that I was soon going to have my laugh caught midway with the heartstrings tugging, which Vinay Pathak is more than capable of doing (case in the point, Dasvidaniya).

But when the thespian did attempt to tug at my the emotional chords, they broke!

The self-deprecating humor worked at a certain level, the character critiquing the society/audience calling his performance “Avant-Garde” – gave hope that it was to continue in that vein to make the emotions more real and push the boundaries of comedy-drama on stage by making the audience laugh and cry with equal intensity in one single act.

Sadly, it was not to be.

The moments which were supposed to shock and make you dwell upon the questions posed by the actor, histrionics notwithstanding, (maybe) like “Why is the child called a bastard for no fault of his own?” came to pass without making an impact and were as stand-alone as the jokes before them. They failed to whir up empathy and thus seemed like aloof white clouds unburdened with rain.

Then there was what seemed like a vague, though deliberate attempt to extend the runtime of the play by showcasing a rant on the lack of filial love, bringing the daughter’s ungratefulness to the fore. Aiming to bolt the laughing audience out of their glee abandon by an abrupt change of mood, it however, failed in my eyes. One sided relationship was reinforced beforehand between the actor and his daughter and unequal perspective of father’s love and its betrayal hogged all the limelight. This turned out to be devoid of any cerebral connect. And as the supposed Lear on stage was evoking the madness into him, I was left seeking the context-less jokes, few and far between they then seemed to be.

The disjunction of the experience was to also lure me into seeking subtext. That too was without any success. In the beginning we were told repeatedly that, “it (the show) hasn’t started yet!”What did he mean by that and when it did start what difference did it make? So much so that when it ended and ‘Lear’ Pathak bowed and left the stage, I waited for him to come back and say, “it hasn’t ended yet!”. But it was not that abstract to be construed as an exercise in Abstract Expressionism. For if it were, I could not even try liking it.

I have learned not to take reviews seriously and not read the ones for they might give the story away but my disconnect with the play, now matches my disillusionment with some of the positive reviews I read after watching it. The glowing ones seemed to be so appreciative of the concept itself that they are blinded towards the content. Is there some pressure for liking something which is perceived to be different? Maybe they relished the laughing so much that they did not care for the ubiquitous inanity of it all.

Alas, all I took back with me was the joke which ended with the cockroaches all drunk. Lamentably, I wasn’t.

The proof that I watched it :)

“…Even though you’re only make believing
Laugh, clown, laugh!
Even though something inside is grieving
Laugh, clown, laugh!
Don’t let your heart grow too mellow
Just be a real punchinello, fellow…”
– Abbey Lincoln.

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