Gogol comes to India via New York

Updated: Aug 05, 2019, 09:44 IST | Snigdha Hasan

After an intensive two-week workshop with city-based actors, globe-trotting director, actor and teacher Daniel Irizarry is ready to stage his take on The Inspector General

Gogol comes to India via New York
Daniel Irizarry (left) trains actors in a multitude of techniques, which will come together in what he calls a theatrical catharsis.

Meyerhold's biomechanics, Commedia dell'arte, Stanislavsky, Grotowski, Niky Wolcz, Dalcroze's eurhythmics, vaudeville, slapsticks, acrobatics, Linklater and Laban. It may be somewhat hard to imagine how this mini glossary of theatrical techniques, and their creators can all come together in one play. But a quick look at Daniel Irizarry's exciting career trajectory makes it seem plausible. For, the critically acclaimed New York-based actor, director and teacher, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, hasn't just learnt these terms in the confines of a classroom in Columbia University, where he pursued his MFA in acting, or The University of Puerto Rico, where he earned his bachelor's degree in drama. Irizarry, instead, has quite literally travelled to the seats of theatre the world over, staging productions and teaching students in Poland, Germany, Cyprus, Japan, South Korea, Scotland and Romania.

It was in his capacity as visiting assistant professor at Ankara's Bilkent University in 2017 that he met Mumbai-based actor, director and teacher Raghav Aggarwal, who happened to be in Turkey for a production of Antony and Cleopatra. Aggarwal returned to India, and when he had the logistics in place to invite Irizarry for a workshop at his acting company, The Actor's Craft, things transpired quickly. "We connected artistically, had an ongoing dialogue on Facebook, and here I am, eating butter chicken and chicken biryani every day," quips Irizarry, as he wraps up the day's rehearsal at an Andheri venue. The play in question is Nikolai Gogol's The Inspector General, an iconic comedy of errors, which though was written as a comment on the widespread political corruption in Imperial Russia, continues to have a universal appeal.

Raghav Aggarwal
Raghav Aggarwal

With 20 actors — all of whom came on board through an audition process that the duo conducted — a classic and all of two weeks at hand, the play has pushed the team to the edge, Irizarry admits. "But it has been a blast and that's the beauty of theatre," he says. When asked what he looked for in actors while screening them, he tells us, "People of varying experiences, who were willing to experiment. So, we have a couple who sings in English and Hindi, and another actor who raps. It's about using the talent of the group."

While the first two acts of the play are based on a classic translation of the classic, the third act draws from the 1949 Hollywood comedy inspired by The Inspector General. The final act is improvisational. "I have been listening to what's happening politically [in India]. The ensemble has made some bold choices for the improvisation," Irizarry shares, without revealing much.
Despite the hectic schedule, the artiste ensured he caught up on some theatre in Mumbai, making good use of his trip coinciding with Motley's 40-year celebrations. "I watched Seema Pahwa in Aurat, Aurat, Aurat, and the actors in Dear Liar were amazing," he says, referring to Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah.

Daniel Irizarry
Daniel Irizarry. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

What is it about being a globetrotter that he wouldn't exchange for anything? "Travelling gives you a broader scope of the world, and empathy," Irizarry shares. "It makes you think about the human condition, and moments that connect human beings across distances."

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