Thursday, February 09, 2006

Family-Witness Account of HARVEST!

-- my niece D and partner drove down from Boston to NYC to see the play! I am hugely impressed at their enterprising spirit and very grateful too. Despite the other accounts, I needed to hear from someone who knows me well enough to report on the performance through (almost) my own eyes. Not entirely, of course, because she is very much her own person, but from what she says, and from the photographs I've seen, I have a much clearer impression of what the play was like. I think I would've liked it ...

Here's what she says:

On Sunday, Jan 29, 2006, we drove down to NYC to the East Village to
see the final performance of Harvest at La MaMa, a well-known venue on
the independent theatre circuit. Off the bustling 2nd Avenue, 4th
Street is a quieter stretch of brownstones peppered with little
restaurants and specialty shops featuring those eclectic items that
define New York chic when worn just so, or by today's It Girl. There,
nestled between the residential doorways and store fronts, is the
unassuming entrance to La MaMa. Opening the door, one first encounters
the heat barrier – strips of heavy plastic designed to keep the
bitterness of winter outside where it belongs. Then one enters the
cramped, no-frills box office space – featuring minimum seating along
a corner where photos of past performances serve as wall paper; a
closet bathroom; and two call windows to pick up tickets to one of the
two theatres housed in this narrow Manhattan space. Harvest is playing
in the ground floor theatre.

Ten minutes before the show, the staff opens the door and starts
ushering folks into the hardwood floored corridor that flanks the
stepped seating area. Again, one is struck by the narrowness of the
space – the stage seems barely wider than a large drawing room and the
set is not much deeper. This is perfect staging for a play that
transpires in a one-room flat in a tenement building in a bustling
Third World metropolis. The stage is set with a single bed on the
right with an end table featuring a picture of Ganesha. On the left is
the "kitchen" area. Along the back is a railing with clothes hanging
to dry in the supposed inner courtyard of the tenement. There is also
a door separating the balcony from the living area. Taking a seat on
the second tier of folding chairs, one notices the rustic style of the
theatre, the exposed brick of the walls only enhances the roughness
of the set.

The play begins with Ma and Jaya waiting, and bickering, for Om to
return from InterPlanta. Once Om comes home and breaks the news that
he got the job at InterPlanta, the guards come to disinfect and
reorganize the living space. The two male guards are dressed in button
down dress shirts with blue ties tuck efficiently away, below the
third button, dark blue pants, and rubber gloves. The one female guard
is wearing the same shirt and tie, with a short tight dark blue skirt
accentuating her petite frame which is made all the more delicate by
her hair being twisted into several little buns in a pixie-like style.
The guards work quickly to clear the living area and finish each
other's sentences as they briskly explain the Interplanta rules. All
the props are removed and white plastic sheets are placed over the
door and the balcony area, creating a not only hermetically sealed
living space, but also a flat screen for the series of InterPlanta
commercials that are projected throughout the play. The only thing
that the guards add to the living space is the contact module, an
interlocking paper pieced puzzle light fixture that Manjula herself
would have enjoyed assembling. This whirls to life and Ginny's larger
than life image is projected on the screen behind the characters. She
is blond, blue-eyed, and overly made up, speaking with a typical, but
not quite charming, Southern twang. The play progresses and we meet
Jetu who promptly demonstrates that he knows Jaya a little more
intimately than her own husband. As Interplanta woos the audience with
how they "Make Lives Worth Living," the living area is transformed
with sterile white furniture and stain steel accessories. Om is
sterile as well in a white cotton kurta pajama. Ma, in contrast, is
wearing a black velvet wrap around bath robe with a leopard skin
collar, and chunky slippers with little cow heads that smile back at
their wearer. Jaya is wearing a brocade silk sari and is the only one
questioning this new false reality created by Ginny – her very own
"human fish bowl"- a concept, which given that Harvest was written in
1996 and the current plethora of reality TV shows, is scarily

As the play progress, white InterPlanta boxes are piled up along the
back of the set in front of the balcony screens. The resulting effect
is that as the more and more absurd InterPlanta commercials are
broadcast, the images are splintered across the boxes and partially
blocked screen. The visual fragmentation of the InterPlanta advocates
only adds to the sense of body parts and life parts that are being
traded at the will and whim of the credit card endowed.

As the voyeurism continues, Jetu returns to the household the day the
guards come for Om . Om crumbles at the prospect of paying his debt to
his benefactor. Therefore, the unwitting guards take Jetu in his stead
with Ma's full support of her least beloved son. Upon his return, the
audience gets to meet the living, corporal form of Ginny which is now
being projected directly into Jetu's mind thanks to the first stage of
the transplant process. Enamored by her lily white form, Jetu greedily
agrees to continue the transplant process with the promise of having
more intimate knowledge of this fresh foreign flower, while carelessly
brushing off the reason and concern of the steadfast Jaya. Time passes
and the living space is in disarray, as is Jaya who is back in her
simple red cotton sari, but her hair is now out of its neat pony tail
and she splays herself across the arch of the sofa. The contact module
whirls to life and beckons to Jaya. She is thrown by the new voice,
and then the living space is invaded by the holographic image of Jetu
who now has the arrogance and seduction of the real recipient of the
InterPlanta services. He unveils the true nature and mission of the
transplant process which Jaya rejects unless it is on her terms. The
play ends with Jaya assuming control of her life and the situation and
proving that one voice can prevail over the monstrous machinery of
Manjula's eviscerated vision for the future of global consumerism.

In case it isn't clear - I loved the production and thought it did
much justice to the play and its harsh sentiments.


Anonymous said...

ms mp - sounds like u had quite a play! gr8 job! heh - i'm cer10 th@ u r hearing about the recent cartoons cacophany. say - have u ever considered putting up your cartoons on your blog? & going in the cyber direction in the day of the internet age th@ u seem to be getting integr8ed in2 - have u ever considered doing "anim8ed cartoons ?" gt

Marginalien said...

Yes I've often thought of posting 'toons but in the end back off. I'd like to do 'em regularly or not at all -- and somehow the rewards of blogging don't add up. It isn't like having a strip in the papers -- more like printing leaflets and then tossing them out the window of a tall building. You never know where the "wind" will carry the stuff you put out on the net -- mostly nowhere, it seems. As for animated 'toons, I wanted to get into them about 20 years ago. I gave up when I realized that animators pretty much HAVE to work as part of a team whereas I'm a loner. I've played around with graphic software that makes it possible to animate images, but everything takes way too long. It's more pleasurable working with physical materials -- paper, paint and ink -- so I prefer not to use the computer for artwork except in very limited ways.

Yup, I've been following the cartoon controversy ... and that's all I'm willing to say in a public medium like this!

Amrobilia said...

Hyplomafantistik is it?