Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ninth Bulletin -- Berkeley, Post-Show

It really is a shame that I don't manage to keep this blog up-dated more frequently. For instance: between this post and the last one, I've been to Irvine and back, having spent a wonderful weekend with a buddy from Bombay days -- but already the current of events has carried me far enough beyond that visit and into the next excitment, i.e., the Berkeley production of HARVEST.

Irvine was fun. I and my friend K have been planning to catch up with one another for ... ohhh ... maybe 10 years? 15 years? She's a molecular biologist and has been living in southern California for a longish while, but things took a dramatic turn in her life two years ago, when she had twins. I had never met any other members of her family before -- so this visit was a sudden immersion, a warm and very happy one, into all kinds of new dimensions: husband, mother-in-law, children, wow! And all extremely and unusually interesting, charming, great to be with. It turned out that the weekend that suited K best was the one on which the twins' second birthday was being celebrated. So the day after I got there we -- K and her mother-in-law A, visiting from India and me bringing up the rear -- got into gear for the party. It is SO astonishing to be in the presence of very small children -- the sense of so much potential packed into a small, mobile unit which can talk a certain amount and is recording everything and yet ... is not quite of this world, is still faintly mystical with newly-arrived otherness.

Before leaving me at the airport K, A and I went for a stroll along the sea-front, enjoyed a balmy sun-lit view of the great blue vastness of the Pacific. Then it was time for me to leave. John Wayne Airport with the great hero striding towards an impossible horizon, twice-life-size, in bronze. Peanut snacks and apple cider on board the flight. Arrival in Berkeley, where E collected me in the car we have rented for the remainder of our stay in California, during a sudden drizzling down-wash of rain.

Back in Berkeley -- just four days later, but so much change! The night before I flew out, we -- meaning E, our hosts Laura and Kiran and myself -- shifted out of one charming residence and into the next, also supremely attractive, but just a bit further north and up a hillside, in Kensington. The new home is constructed such that guests (we are the first!) get a little cottage all to themselves, complete with kitchenette and a great view. At the time I left, only survival furniture had been moved from one residence to the next. When I got back, civilization was well-entrenched: chairs, bedside lamp, floor rugs, the works ... I was amused to notice what kinds of items, normally unnoticed, were the ones we missed most at the time of the first move: teaspoons, kitchen towels, garbage bins and mugs! The basics for drinking a hot cup of tea, so vital for keeping morale high during times of stress.

And so ... to the play. Well, last night (Friday, 11th November) was the opening night and I finally saw it with all the tech in place. For those of you who attended the unfortunate performance in Delhi and have been interested ever since in the play's history, let me say this: it was better than Delhi. HOWEVER ... but I need to backtrack here in order to be coherent.

I saw two rehearsals before last night's performance (that was about three weeks ago, when I first arrived in Berkeley). Both times, I will frankly confess, I was deeply disturbed. The play was -- alas! Yet again! -- NOT what I'd like it to be. However, one great relief for me was that I was able to express my views to Sudipto; and he took it very well -- because I had also, at the same moment that I told him what I thought, also decided that I would NOT interfere with his interpretation. I told him that too.

He has added at least an hour of performance time to the play, including lines, movements and moods that are in no way part of the original. For instance, he has permitted his actors to use a number of Hindi-isms such as "arre", "beta" etc -- which I find very hard to accept because (a) I am not a Hindi-speaker and specifically resisted falling back on ethnic touches of that sort while writing the play (b) the use of Hindi is a reminder that the family would never normally be speaking English and besides the actual words and terms are cliches, utterly colourless in themselves. I far prefer the play to inhabit a language-neutral space by remaining in ONE language, rather than attempting to balance uneasily between two.

Yet, for all that I disliked -- and it was/is a real dislike -- I recognized that this production, being fuelled by students and their youthful energy, had a kind of vulgar logic. The four principal characters were played by South Asians [-- I've deleted a portion here at the request of a visitor --] and it seemed very important to them to explore the specific ethnic identities of their characters. It's hard for me to express what I want clearly, but it's something like this: since I don't feel the need to underline the fact that I'm Indian/SouthAsian, it is utterly unimportant -- no, more than unimportant, actually UNATTRACTIVE -- for me to make a big deal about that identity. I want to go the other way -- I want to universalize the experience of being whatever -- Asian/Indian/whatever -- and to explore the notion of sameness-in-otherness. Whereas for this production, what seems to have overwhelmed the tone is the heavy spice of Indianness.

I believe it doesn't help the play at all, because the language and ideas don't support it but ... and here's why I didn't interfere ... I wanted to see whether or not I would be alone in my belief, and whether Sudipto's conviction that the play has a context (meaning, an INDIANNESS) that I, its creator, want to deny, would prevail.

OKAY! So back to yesterday's performance. Seeing the play with all its technical effects in place was definitely a plus. There was an interesting take on the GINNI scenes: instead of being shown any views of Her Blondeness, we only heard her voice -- and four different girls read GINNI's part, adding a curious layered effect, so that it was unclear how many people were speaking -- while the Prakash family members looked up at the bright light which represented her presence. Because this permitted them to face the audience, we had a stronger sense of their reaction than is usually the case with the GINNI scenes in other productions of the play AND -- a great bonus -- the audio was delivered live, from backstage, so the annoying tension of pre-taped video was avoided. The final scene, between JAYA and VIRGIL was unusually powerful -- better than most that I've seen -- and VIRGIL's voice was also live, a gravelly male voice, strangely wistful, I thought and quite effective.

It still irks me, of course, that the play is (a) soooo long (b) soooo ethnic. That's not what I wrote and it certainly isn't what I like to see. It becomes an ordeal at this length, like one of those interminable dance-dramas I used to hate so much as a child. Whereas HARVEST's ideal run-time is about one and a half hours, this is almost THREE! By mid-play, I found myself wanting to drown the whole, whining, screaming, wailing, whimpering family of four grotesques -- that's what they had all become, human gargoyles -- it seemed to me no-one could possibly care about what fate lay in store for such creatures. But ...

At this moment, I don't know if I am alone in my dislike or not. I have realized, from listening to a couple of others talking about the play, that the desire to see a production drenched in ethnic context is apparently very great. Enough to overturn other aesthetic considerations ... maybe? I don't know.

At this moment, the second night's performance is still going on ... and I am sitting in the director's office, tapping out these notes, feeling slightly naughty as I do this, feeling pleased to finally be able to get these views off my conscience and out onto the net. I've been suppressing my opinions until opening night, because of course I didn't want to presume upon the performance until I'd SEEN it, complete. And once the performance is over -- there's another hour and a half to go -- I and Sudipto will engage in a talk-back on-stage with those of the audience members who choose to remain. E is in the audience again, and this time Laura, Maya and Becky are all present too ...

Much to look forward to -- and much left to report upon! In just another few hours.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I want only to allert you about some mistakes that you made on one of the actresses. The person who played "Jaya" was raised by her Italian parents, but I find it strange you mentioned she has a "mediterranean" accent. She was raised in Belgium (her first language was French), and therefore if she were to have any accent, it would be a French one. That is, IF she had any accent AT ALL.
All in all, I found the performance to be quite interesting, my attention was never draining in agony. The characters were funny, witty, and clearly brought out (not exactly gargoyles).
And, yes, I did care to find out what would happen to them, what their fate was.
And their "whimpering, wailing....etc." I did not find to be excessive or useless. Heartfelt, and heartbreaking, yes, but not useless.
So congratulations to the Harvest cast, I applaud you.

Harvest Fan said...

I, too, thought the performers did an incredible job bringing out the dark and disturbing comedy of the show. Each family member was somehow lovable, and to see them each fall into their respective pits, or into "gargoyles" added a powerful disturbance, that ultimately made the show so riveting.

I also wonder how an Indian play can be done in America, almost completely by people who have grown up in America, without making it an Indian play. The last time Berkeley did an Indian play was something like 1914, and therefore, the idea to do Harvest was part of a plan to celebrate South Indian talent. If performed in India, I can see how it need not be "so Indian," but I don't really see how that can be here in America. It is very necessary this day and age for eastern culture to find a stronger place in America, and that beings with minority representation in the arts. So congratulations to the cast and to the UC Berkeley Theater Department on exploring cultural boundaries and putting on a damn good show in the process!

shawnkumarjain said...

Going along the lines of what the previous two commenters have said, it is sad that even at a school as liberal and supposedly multicultural as UC Berkeley, when most students here think of Indian performance, they think of bhangra, Bollywood, or that "Addictive" song by Truth Hurts. Basically, Indian-Americans are both trivialized and exoticized as song and dance men (and women). While I too appreciate and enjoy pop culture, clearly there is much more depth to Indian performance than what you see at Indus' Culture Night, and I believe that "Harvest" plays a crucial role in showcasing some of that depth. Even if you did not intend for "Harvest" to be ethnicized in such a way, I think it is important that you realize this crucial role the production plays in the context of UC Berkeley.

But getting beyond the fact that UC Berkeley's production of "Harvest" exposes students to a representation of Indian performance that they don't usually see, I do wonder what exactly would be your ideal production of "Harvest?" I feel that the text of the play demands that a clear choice be made as to where to set the play, whether it be Ghana, India, or Colombia. I mean, can the play really take place in a theoretical or make-believe "third world" environment? And if not, how do you prevent the play from being ethnicized if the director must choose a real country to set the play in? I just don't see how a director could set the play in India without the characters having "Indian-ness," just as they would have "Colombian-ness" if it was set in Colombia. I also can't imagine the play taking place in a make-believe, non-ethnicized environment and having the same color, vibrance, and cultural importance as the UC Berkeley production of "Harvest." I too salute the cast and crew. You guys are all amazing :).

Grazia Manzone said...

Dear writer,
I am the Mother of one of the actresses who had the honor to be directed by Professor Chatterjee in Harvest.
You wrote that "...Jaya's role is played by a sprightly ninenteen-year-old of Sri Lankan origin BUT (sic![the "sic!" is mine]) brought up as an Italian (is that a guilt in your opinion?) and speaking (I LIKE THIS, REALLY) with a faint Mediterranean accent. "Most exotic." (How nice! Thank you!)
First: my daughter is a Tamil brought up in Bruxelles, Belgium and she spoke French until we moved to the USA. Therefore, just for your information, because it seems to me that you are NOT able to distinguish between a French accent and a Sicilian, or Greek, or Algerian one, or etc. etc. other Mediterranean accents, I want to point out that I was puzzled, almost offended, (you can take away that "almost" with all confidence, dear writer) by your words. I would like to suggest at this point that you should have more respect of people of another background and nationality.
In your BLOG you keep saying, as you already pointed out at the theatre during the post-production discussion, that you are "deeply disturbed- Alas!...yet again!... NOT what I'd like to be... Suppressing my opinion... But... maybe?... I don't know..." (a lot of ellipsis, a lot of suspension, many I don't know etc.). I wonder why you did not express in a clear manner your thoughts when and where it was logical to express them, and in the proper place. The play, in your opinion, was "...falling back on ethnic touches," had a "vulgar logic,and was expressing too much "ethnic identities." If I am not wrong, the play is set in Bombay, and, as far as I know, the place is situated in India. Moreover, you continue saying that "It still irks me ... the play is... soooo ethnic. That's not what I wrote...The whole whining, screaming, wailing, whimpering family of four grotesque human gargolyes..." So, my dear writer, why did you not manifest with a firm and positive attitude (and not in a whining way like you do in your BLOG)your thought BEFORE and NOT after the hard work of Director, actors, crew? Why did you give permission to interpret your work in such a way and complain so much after?
It is not nice that you do not respect now the persona who put hours, experience, and toil to try to give life to your work in the best way possible.
Grazia Manzone (by the way my background is FRENCH, and I consider that classification only a LABEL, according to the words of Locke.)

Rasika-Sharon said...

Hi, this is Rasika-Sharon (I played Jaya.)
First of all, I am very sad to find out that you had so many negative and plaintive comments to make on the production. I haven't met anyone who has complained about the length of the play, or the "whining, screaming, wailing, etc."
I noticed that you repeatedly mention that the play was not produced the way you wanted it to be, or at least, the way you expected it to be. However, you always fail to express exactly how you would like the play to be acted/directed. Personally, I would like to know, as it seems to have become some kind of mystery.
Finally, I want to say that I truly do not appreciate you talking about my background, information about my life, and posting it on the net. It's personal, and frankly, you really should have asked me if you could have posted that information on your BLOG.
I don't talk about my life with people I don't know, and the fact that you have posted that on the internet and it's now open and exposed to the public eye (a public eye that I don't know), really disturbs me. It's funny that I'm the one to say this, but that was not professional of you.

Marginalien said...

Rasika -- I'll remove references to your background. I had no idea you might find them disturbing.

As to the rest, I am amused and pleased that the performance did find supporters -- glad for Sudipto, glad for the performers. It is after all far pleasanter to hear that the play was appreciated, even if I did not enjoy the results.

I have seen one production of the play that I liked. In Greece. It was close to the intention and design of the script -- with no intervention from me. The national identity of the characters was obvious and the entry into their world was smooth, without recourse to popular cliches about India.

But it is natural for a young and exhuberant cast to have strong feelings about their interpretation of a piece! It's in the nature of theatre to raise temperatures and inspire passion. May it continue to do so.

Anonymous said...

Reading all these comments and the playwright's sloppy remarks, makes me, as a theater fan, suggest: why doesn't she start DIRECTING the play herself? With this much conflict she'd better stop other people from directing HER play! It seems she does not know that once a work of art is written it belongs to the world, not HER and not HER MIND! I think the production was awesome, way beyond a student production. I think Chatterjee has done a great job in directing these fantastic actors. Good job guys. You rule! The guy who played Jitoo was unbelievable. And Rasika, you are awesome! I loved the way Om went mad. And needless to say Ma's way of saying "Ey! Nakeed!" and "WHAT!!" will not leave me for a long time! The Ginnies, Guards and Agents were spooky. If you ask me, I'd say these guys belong to the world, not India! I don't know what she means by ethnic! Ethnic for me is when Jaya says she wants to break her bangles and shave her hair! What I saw was not about shaving hair and stuff like that! As Rasika's Mom says, the play IS located in Bombay which is in India! But these guys have taken it way beyond that, unless she only wants to look at their skin color! This production is one awesome piece of work, not an ETHNIC work. Go Bears! And guys, if she can't understand it, that's her problem, not yours. Have a great second week run.

Anonymous said...

I apologize to anyone who may be offended by what I write, but I feel that I deserve to have my two cents as well.
Personally, I found many of the initial comments during the blog entry to be appropriate. I felt that the play was indeed far too long, and much of the feedback I received when discussing the play with others who had seen it was in line with issues of the play length and the melodrama of the production. I believe that yes, the director has the right to put his own spin on it, but the playwrite has the same right. In fact, a great deal of the text was blatantly disregarded. In terms of the "ethnicizing" of the play, I do recall the casting notice inviting actors of all ethnicities to audition, but I was surprised to note, the entire principal cast was made up of actors who are, or appear to be, of Indian descent. I am not suggesting that type-casting be ignored, but I can point to last year's production of "Three Sisters," a play which deals with Russian identity, as an example of multiethnic casting (the sisters were of differing ethnicities, but were still convincing as siblings) and a focus not on place, but rather on the story itself. "Harvest" could just as easily have existed in a realm which placed less value on the ethnic identity of the characters, and more on the universal fears of globalization which the play explores. I found the degree of intentional "weirdness," such as the seemingly out-of-place screaming, panting, and groaning, distracting from the plot of the play, and feel that it would be better served by a closer adherance to the original text (which I loved, by the way). Don't get me wrong--it's obvious that the cast and crew have put a great deal of effort into the production of "Harvest," and their work shows. While I do not agree with the choices that were made in this particular production, I respect the director's right to make them, as well as the writer's right to object. I just happen to agree more with the latter.

Amrobilia said...

Whoopeeeeeee! What fun being had by one and all! Enjoy!

Marginalien said...

Amro ... and well you might be amused!! Too bad you weren't here. You woulda loved it.

Missing you every time we eat something especially glorium!

asarwate said...

My comments are a little too rambling, so I posted them over at my blog. Of course, you are by now sick of reading commentary on your commentary, I am sure.

Anonymous said...

Funny Rasika in her comments complaions about Manjula "talking about her background, information about her life and posting it on the net." She further asserts it is personal and one is to obtain her permission first. And, get this, it disturbs her that her personal information is now on the web and open to the public eye.

And guess what? she has a web site with all, and a gory lot more, that personal stuff.

Guess she will need more than her mom to step in to provide support and ammo coverage now. Her problem, and her mom's, is within them, not with Manjula's blog posting.

Marginalien said...

Okay, I'm stepping in here to request that no further comments be posted here on the subject of Rasika, her blog or anything else to do with her. However misplaced her concerns regarding my remarks may have been, I would like her wishes to be respected at least in the context of this blog.

I do not wish either to suppress any comments posted here nor to block comments from being posted but I will do both if there are any further posts about Rasika.

Amrobilia said...

Hot! Hot! HOT!

When am you back? I'm in Deli dec 21-28.

Your blog's H-O-T!

√úbermaniam said...

Are you as hot as your blog? Oops, very intellectual and thoughtful post. am sure you're very intellgient. But...umm, are you hot? Jeez. down boy! Goodbye. Hot blog. Are you...

Anupama said...

Hi,
I hit upon this blog by accident, and I must confess, I am fascinated by the issues the blog and the comments raise. The thing with plays, unlike other genres of writing, is that no one person can claim sole ownership to it. After all, the script may be written by the playwright, but once written, it's appropriated by the director and actors. A good production depends on how much the actors and the director have appropriated and assimilated the text. In that respect I guess the production team has scored. But as a playwright myself, I do have reservations with adding text (even if it's merely interjections). I've read Harvest (several times, in fact) although I haven't watched any theatrical productions (I didn't care too much for the movie). I'd like to give my paisa's worth re. the use of Hindi words in the play. It seems unnecessary. Let's take the cultural context. These characters live in Bombay and are more likely to speak Marathi than Hindi. (Mixing Hindi and English seems to be a modern trend in urban Indian theatre, an unnecessary attempt to emphasise Indianness. It's high time we accept that English is as much Indian now as Hindi.) The characters in Harvest are likely non-English speakers in their world. Mixing English and Hindi gives the impression that the characters belong to urban middle or high class, when they are not. A full English language production, I think, would have been ideal. I agree with the playwright on this one.

Amrobilia said...

I arseked "when am you back?" n "I'm in Deli dec. 21-28".

Please to responsibleet!

What a lot of bleet your play's perforce in UC has generated (cudn't think of a getter bird). You must be all porked-up!

Why don't you write a play on 'eating glorious things'?

Marginalien said...

Oo sorry -- sorry -- in all the sturm und drang, it's been hard to focus on the mundane issues of comings and goings. So yes: returning on the 12th/13th of Decembrium. Yes: we shall meat. Yes: we shall bleet at longtitudinous! Yum.

Amrobilia said...

My troy grows no hounds!

Anonymous said...

Arre, these ABCDs are always obsessed with identity and stuff.

Anonymous said...

"Once a work of art is written, it belongs to the world?" Who is this moron?

Anonymous said...

Surely a writer is well within her rights to expect that the soul of her play be preserved in the performance. I think what has happened is that the director added to the play preoccupations close to his own. I am not surprised you're is peeved. Any writer would be. I can tell you stories about officious editors meddling with my writing that will make your flesh crawl. My suggestion to such editors and directors is that they are better off writing their own stuff instead of riding piggy-back on someone else.

Anonymous said...

Continuing from the previous comment...

Once I was in a similar situation. A short story of mine had been so mutiliated by an editor having writerly aspirations that I suggested that it ought to have been published in his own name, with a little note that it had been adapted from a short story written by me. That would have been a satisfactory resolution, for frankly, I was embarassed to have the ghastly thing credited to me. Some of the lines made me cringe. I would die rather than have someone think I wrote them.

Marginalien said...

-- absolutely right! But I thought about it too late -- i.e., suggesting that the Berkeley production should have been called an "adaptation".

Years ago, when a film director approached me for the rights to one of my short stories, I denied them to him because I knew he would do a terrible job and I didn't want to be identified as the source of it. When he persisted, the compromise I suggested was to use the story as a foundation, mentioning it only as the source of inspiration. He didn't take the offer. He wanted me to give him the rights to the story AND for me to collaborate on the screenplay writing.

Anonymous said...

why don't you direct your plays yourself? Why did you accept ..." to be invited and to stay here?" for free, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Who was the director? Nihalani?

Marginalien said...

No, of course not -- it wasn't someone especially well-known and the reason I was so sure he'd make a mess that he made it clear from the outset that he was only interested in one aspect of the story. What he really wanted was to borrow my writing skills and a couple of elements from my story, to create his own narrative. I know that many authors form good working partnerships with directors, but I've never been one to enjoy collaborations.

Anonymous said...

oh, God! what a comment!!!!

Marginalien said...

Eh? Which comment in particular?? There are quite a number of prize-winners here!