A tale of two friends
People who braved the demonetization woes to visit Madhusudan Mancha of South Kolkata got to see a stage presentation of an old American Production. It was the eighth show of Indur O Manush on the third day of the United Bratyajon Festival being held in the city.
When the despair is visibly felt around the country, Howrah Bratyajon chose to present its latest drama of despondence at the festival. American novelist, John Steinbeck penned the novel, ‘Of Mice and Men’ in 1937 when the great depression overpowered America in the 1930s. It is a moving tale of two friends, one a kind but a slow moving giant, Lennie Small and another strong, intelligent worker, comparatively smaller in size, George Milton.
Their friendship grows deeper as they share a common dream of owning a homestead with paddy fields and domestic animals. George was aware of Lennie’s shortcomings of forgetfulness with a child-like simplicity as Lennie was a specially-abled person. The play revolves around these two persons, belonging to the migrating working class of the society, and their aspiration to be financially independent. But Lennie’s enormous physical strength, his transgressions and his fondness for soft things conspire against them. Though George was quite sympathetic to Lennie and guards him like his elder brother he finally takes a call to put him to sleep forever when Lennie acts as a potential danger to the society which can be typecast as the American way of settlement.
Debasis Biswas, the experienced theatre practitioner and the director of Howrah Bratyajon, has presented the theatrical version of the novel with many of the prejudices of that time – racism, sexism, class struggles, and bias against those with disabilities.
Loneliness is a striking factor of each character in this play. Evil of oppression and abuse is a theme illustrated in the play. The treatment meted out to ‘incapables’ in the society remains a sensitive issue as the society clearly fails to guide them into the ‘mainstream’.
The minimalistic usage of the props, regulated usage of songs and music, cowboy-like dresses with gun trotting characters, cigarettes dangling from the mouth and guitar in hand try to capture the typical essence of American cultures. Koushik Kar with his characteristic mannerism and charisma portrays the character of a caring man who is a drifter, George Milton.
Shankar Debnath , a senior actor, does his best to represent the tenderness of Lennie Small’s heart. Young Sumit Roy as Curley and Avirup Ghatak as the Boss of the ranch show their acting potential. Tannistha Biswas as Curley’s wife and Debasis Biswas as old Candy make the play worth a watch.
The highlights of the show are the two songs sung by George (Koushik Kar) and Curley’s wife (Tannistha) and Lennie’s imaginary conversation with his dead aunt (Kalyani Biswas) in the end. But the actors fall short of dominating the stage while renowned film editor, Rabiranjan Moitra, prudently, in the process of composing music and sound provides them with ample opportunity.
Playwright and director Sekhar Samaddar does a reasonably good job in the projection of light on stage, a role in which we do not see him much.
Director of Howrah Bratyajon, Debasis opines, ‘Being a representative of a third world country, I feel not alienated from the dreams of Lennie and others, rather, I feel I can touch the volatile bubbles of hope even if they, in the long run, are submerged in the mist of hopelessness and futile efforts of our day to day life.’
When asked about the apprehension of falling short of hitting the right cord by not Indianising the script, he replies, ‘I thought the American context of the play – the ultimate hardships of the workers, their struggle for existence, their silent yet eloquent unity against exploitation and oppression and overall the dilemma they are constantly in – can easily transcend the barriers of local and international, geographical or cultural.’
After producing Jayoman, written by Amitava Samajpati, Death Case, written by Goutam Sengupta and Anandi Bai, written by Bratya Basu, the father- mother- daughter (Debasis, Kalyani, Tannistha) trio continues with their experiment in theatre.
Though the play failed to keep up the tempo at times, the intent of bringing the frenetic cadence of the primitive instinct of our lives to the fore can always be lauded.