Recreating 1939 American black comedy

Originally set in New York with a drama critic and his family which loves to kill, American playwright Joseph Kesselring's 1939 play 'Arsenic and Old Lace' has been adapted worldwide. Closer home, its Indianised version is set in a Mumbai suburb, and is delivered in "Anglo-Indian Hindi lingo".

Director Nayana Sagar's play by the same name revolves around the protagonist Bobby D'silva who is stuck with two aunts who kill old men by slipping arsenic into their wine, a nephew who doubles up as psychopath killer, and another who mistakes himself as Adolf Hitler. The play script was also adapted for an American film in 1944.

What makes it such a timeless play?

"This play fascinates me, for it works on many levels – the plot, the characters' motives, the story's motive, the conflict that drives the story as well as the individual characters is woven so seamlessly into the story. Although the genre is of a macabre dark comedy, the story infuses a lot of optimism and hope in the reader," Sagar said.

The farcical black comedy has been Indianised and adapted into Hindi by Ranjit Kapoor.

Sagar has translated the vernacular Hindi language into an 'Anglo-Indian Hindi lingo' spoken by the Christians of Vasai, a far suburb of Mumbai where the protagonist of the play Bobby D'silva and his family are based.

"The art effects and set props are imaginatively used to recreate a vintage look of the abode of D'silva family who are probably one of the original Christian suburb settlers, their home is over 100 years old and the set emulates this. The light design highlights the macabre mystery of the plot premise," said Sagar.

The Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts (SRCPA) staged 'Arsenic and Old Lace' on August 10 – 11.

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