Monday, 26 August 2013

How to Skin a Giraffe (Metro Plus Theatre Festival,Hyderabad, Day 2)

I wasn't overly impressed by the play How to Skin a Giraffe. While I have not read Buchner's play, Leonce and Lena, on which this was supposed to be based, I found a few loose ends within the play. The two things I thought were disconnected were the teaching scene, where Wagner the dog was more studious than the students themselves (a fact I can vouch for from classes I sit in) and the two men who were looking for a criminal within the forest.

The enactment was good, with quite a bit of melodrama, good usage of stage-space, body language and the multi-purpose triangular props:

Yet, the play seemed to hold on to certain gender stereotypes that weren't quite palatable. For instance, Rosetta, Popo's love, is almost just a prop. One could say that the she is only intended to highlight Popo's melancholia. Yet, she is not even represented as a character in the few lines where she professes her love, and is suddenly made to look death-like, immediately giving way to the next scene. Vaal's description of "fried chicken" which was actually about his neighbour's wife was just cheap comedy. The speed dating scene was over-done, where women apparently fell for 'rap-ists' (oh, no- that's just the music), howling 'aaaoooo' when they got lucky! Before the melancholic and highly cynical Popo meets dreamy-eyed Pipi, he tells Vaal, his sidekick, that he needs someone dumb! What does that say of the female protagonist, not to mention his own sense of self? Pipi is always dreaming for something beyond her- looking into the trees, and counting stars, and falls for Popo.

One of the best scenes in the play, however, was the scene with the reflections. I have always liked the concept of mirroring in theatre, and it was done well, where Pipi and her governess first enter the realm of reflections and almost get trapped within it, but manage to escape when the princess wakes up from the trap, dragging her governess out. But Popo and Vaal get stuck in the mire of self-images and only after a great struggle can Popo free himself from the reflections. Vaal, however, gets trapped by these reflections, and requires Popo to untangle him from his own self-image.

I did not quite understand the use of certain names. While Buchner's play used the names Popo and Pipi as the names of kingdoms, where they meants 'buttocks' and 'urine' respectively, How to Skin a Giraffe used the name for their protagonists. While these meanings for a kingdom implies the degeneracy within the state, I do not understand what significance it could have when used as names for protagonists! I do not know why the name 'Wagner' was used for the dog either. Apart from the word 'wag' in it, I cannot see any other connection (any ideas?).

There was also the question of language. I did not stay for the discussion with the director, but heard later that there was an uproar about the issue of language. As someone who can understand and follow Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and English (which were the primary languages, apart from the use of a little Kannada and apparently Nepali), the play was not too difficult to comprehend. And the idea of subtitles is not too appealing, since the focus shifts from the enactment to the words on the screen (as is the case with TV also, I find). I liked this mix of languages. It lent a different flavour to the play. I find that it also reflects something prevalent in Indian cities- where people from different language groups are constantly mingling with each other, attempting to define their languages to each other. However, in the brochure given to the audience, the space in 'Language' says 'English (with other languages)'. This was not the case. The play used a lot of Indian languages, and the primary mode of conversation was not English. If, instead, the space read 'multi-lingual', maybe one can guarantee that only people with an inclination towards the multi-lingual will come for such plays.

Overall, I wasn't too interested in the play and was happy when it ended. I also think my disinclination to the play was fuelled by the intensity of the previous day's performance, which was near perfect, and I found myself constantly reverting to comparisons between the two plays, even though I was very aware of the difference of style and narration. I would probably rate How to Skin a Giraffe as a mediocre performance that could do with a lot more evolution in its script.

No comments: