Anubha Fatehpuria will act out a miscellany of women characters, spanning more than a century in Pieces.
Once again, in recent weeks, the free-thinking Virginia Woolf provides grist for the theatre’s mill. In Deepika Arwind’s I am not Here, staged in Mumbai last week, her essay, Shakespeare’s Sister, set the cardinal tone for an evening of feminist satire. Now, she’s part of a roster of illustrious writers whose works have been mined for their insights into the feminine psyche by director Vinay Sharma, for Pieces, a one-actor play to be enacted by Anubha Fatehpuria.
The performance is one of a selection of three productions by the Kolkata-based Padatik Theatre and Rikh that will be staged in Mumbai this weekend.
Woolf is joined by the likes of Susan Glaspell, Anton Chekov, Guy De Maupassant, and August Strindberg, among others. Perhaps, the ‘piece’ of earliest provenance in this anthology-of-sorts is by Restoration playwright William Congreve, who came into his sardonic own in the late 17th century, at a time women were finally being entrusted with women’s roles on stage, hitherto reserved for cross-dressed male actors.
Almost on cue, Pieces uses the construct of a stage actress contemplating her many parts over a chequered career, with Fatehpuria flitting adroitly from one character to the next, essaying a miscellany of women drawn from the selected writings, which inhabit a chronology that spans more than a century and a half.
“These are the voices of women considered modern for their times, but taken as contemporary expression,” explains Fatehpuria. The play’s disarming conceit, albeit one that is not readily apparent to audiences, is that the script was delivered to her on the floor of rehearsals, completely devoid of any context, period or otherwise. Sharma had scrubbed the texts of any incriminating details while retaining the essences of real and archetypal feminine experiences. “The ways in which language evolves, allowed me to place the pieces in time, but I was comfortable looking at them as texts for today,” says Fatehpuria. Moving back and forth was surprisingly fluid, and she found that, notwithstanding the distance of time and culture, the material remained starkly topical, their underlying issues still extant. “I unquestionably related to each piece, and that was frightening because it made me wonder how far we’ve come in reality as women?” she elaborates.
Till very recently, Fatehpuria did not even have an inkling of the writers involved, instead choosing to unearth the emotional heft of each piece instinctively and intuitively.
The piece opened in Kolkata in June at the Padatik Little Theatre located, quite appropriately, on Shakespeare Sarani Road, one of the city’s important arteries. It’s a venue with two intimate black box studios, the first of which was established by Padatik co-founder Shyamanand Jalan in 1983 (the group itself came up in 1972). “[Jalan] encouraged Padatik actors to start directing under their own name, [and create] the kind of work which aligned with their identity as an artist without clashing with [Jalan’s] artistic work,” says Fatehpuria.
Sharma has been with the theatre outfit for almost four decades, and his own work is produced under Rikh, more an identity affiliated with Padatik than a separate group. Rikh literally means “to scratch, to tear up (the ground), to draw, to engrave, inscribe, trace a line, to delineate or outline…”, and the earliest reference to it occurred in the Rig Veda.
Since its premiere, Pieces has completed ten-odd shows. Accompanying it on this Mumbai outing is Sharma’s own solo piece — Gabriel Emanuel’s Mark Twain: Live in Bombay! — and Yahan, a two-hander written and directed by him, and featuring Fatehpuria alongside Kalpana Thakur Jha. Like Pieces, it is a play that draws from a multitude of influences — early Buddhist nuns’ verses from the Pali Therigatha, expressive Prakrit love poetry in the Gāthā Saptaśatī, and Bulleh Shah’s evocative Sufi lyrics in rustic Punjabi, with its two actors negotiating the shape-shifting terrain as kindred spirits restlessly in search of eternal resolution.
Pieces and Yahan will stage at Prithvi Theatre on November 23 and 24, respectively; more details at bookmyshow.com
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