Italian play's adaptation gets a quirky desi twist

Updated: Dec 07, 2016, 15:31 IST | Krutika Behrawala |

Mask, mime and a commode are the mainstay of a Dario Fo comic satire adaptation

Vaishali Bisht in The Open Couple
Vaishali Bisht in The Open Couple

As the audience settles down, a white commode basks under the bright lights on the stage. A couple, Antonia and her husband, walk in, bickering about the state of their long-term marriage. Exhibiting suicidal tendencies, Antonia removes a gun from the centrepiece and tries to shoot herself. Her husband calms her down and suggests they turn into an ‘open couple’ to deal with life.

Khan and the crew wear different get-ups to welcome the audience before the playKhan and the crew wear different get-ups to welcome the audience before the play

What follows is a circus of how she silently suffers her husband’s philandering ways until the tables turn, and she finds a Nobel Prize-winning professor, leading him to pull the gun out of the commode, which has been on stage through the 70-minute play. “I have used it as a metaphor about how life revolves around sh*t pot. Everything comes out of it and goes into it eventually,” says director Faraz Khan, as he readies to stage The Open Couple, two years after showcasing it at a theatre festival in Mumbai and travelling with it in different parts of the country.

Director Faraz Khan applies make-up to actor Bhavin Patel for a mask effect
Director Faraz Khan applies make-up to actor Bhavin Patel for a mask effect

Fo the audience
The play is an adaptation of Italian actor-playwright Dario Fo’s 1983 comic-satire The Open Couple, penned with his wife, Franca Rame. “I came across the play six years back, when I studied Dario Fo at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He is one of the greatest artistes, who practised liberalism through free speech and a critique of revered institutions like the church and marriage through his writing,” says Khan, who has acted in films like Ship Of Theseus and Patiala House. The play marks his directorial debut for stage.

Mime and masks
The nature of the text gave the director the liberty to tweak it to an Indian setting and use his own style of staging it. “The text doesn’t specify the performance style. It gave me many visual ideas. You can perform the play as a kitchen-sink drama. I chose mime and commedia, an Italian style of comedy,” says Khan. It involves the cast — Vaishali Bisht and Bhavin Patel — undertake paint-jobs to don various masks through the act. “When the husband talks about his neighbour, Tony, he speaks and acts like him. In another scene, where Antonia describes how her husband brought home a 20-year younger girlfriend, Bhavin mimes the encounter behind her.”

Bisht, who was part of the original cast when it was staged two years back, jokes, “My biggest challenge was sweat, and the director’s clarity of thought.” On a serious note, she adds, “It has been gratifying to receive diverse feedback from the audience. I know of married women who have sent their husbands to watch the second show and 25-year-old boys who told me they wished they had seen the play before they started dating.”

Mock the accent
An interesting aspect to this performance is the mock Italian accent that the characters speak in. “In order to neutralise the accents that Indian actors have when speaking in English, we have chosen to say the dialogue in this style. It also makes it more dramatic,” explains Khan.

On: December 1 and 2, 7.30 pm
At: The Cuckoo Club, Mc Ronnel’s Compound, near Pali Hill, St Andrews Road, Bandra (W)

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