When tables turn
What happens when a rape survivor regains power in a situation? A new production of an old play examines the consequences
William Mastrosimone wrote the play Extremities back in 1982, as an off-Broadway play. Nearly 40 years later, it returns, in original text, to a Mumbai stage. Directed by Hidayat Sami, the play features three women in a cast of four and a female producer, Saloni Shukla of Verite Productions.
Early on, you will see, Extremities isn't just about the performative. Down to each movement and line, it alludes to our world and our surroundings. And despite a different setting, it resonates deeply. The play tells the story of Marjorie, a seemingly ordinary woman who shares her suburban home with two flatmates. Her series of misfortunes begin when a wasp strays in. That it will be a sign of impending doom is something she is unaware of. The wasp isn't the only intruder on the day and shortly after, Raul, a man in search of a friend arrives. As the conversation proceeds, both Marjorie and the audience know that there is more to the story.
A rape attempt follows and Marjorie in a twist of fate regains control of the situation. Now, a bound man sits in a fireplace begging for mercy while a woman is in charge of his fate. This is when the two flatmates, Terry and Patricia arrive. While the women empathise at first, their views and conditioning come into play. They play out different scenarios interrupted by the man and decide not to call the cops. "An attempted rape would be difficult to prove and the threat of his return would loom large," all three believe.
The three women could well be archetypes and the crime could as easily belong in this day and age. It is also why Hidayat Sami, known from his work with stalwarts like Satyadev Dubey, chose to use the script as is. "I first read the script when my father shared it with me, seven years ago. I felt now was the time to do this play. Rape cases continue to go unreported and survivor-blaming is still a reality," he says.
Sami admits that Extremities is a difficult play, both for the actors and the viewers. While on one hand, there isn't a dull moment in its 100-minute runtime, on the other it requires more than a cursory trigger warning. He recounts incidents of actors breaking down during rehearsals and "sitting a foot away to ensure the physical comfort of those involved in the rape scene." It also marked a gradual but heightened sensitivity towards the characters and subject matter. "When we started out, the boys would often make jokes. But that stopped over time and I've seen them break down too," he says.
The process was equally challenging. "How does one choreograph a rape scene? I wanted to bring in a movement expert but decided to improvise with the actors," says Sami who strongly believes in spending time with the script. The cast was crucial, and Sami looked long and hard for the lead. "I wanted someone who looked tough but was also comfortable laying bare her emotions," he shares, expressing his satisfaction with Garima Yajnik and Aditi Puthran, both new entrants. The double casting was as much a function of the emotional intensity as the practicality. "It is difficult to perform more than one show a day," he confesses.
Extremities will leave you with a lump in your throat and a nagging discomfort. But most of all, it will leave you with questions, important and urgent ones.
ON January 21 and 22, 7 pm and 9 pm
AT Prithvi Theatre, 20, Janki Kutir, Juhu.
Log on to bookmyshow.com
Cost Rs 175 onwards
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