Brief Candle is as burlesque as it is tragicOne World Theatre has once again brought us an exciting theatrical piece, one the theatergoing audience of Kathmandu should experience firsthand
Intriguing is the word, an adjective, that came to my mind as One World Theatre’s newest production Brief Candle by the Indian playwright Mahesh Dattani drew to an emotional close. The play’s subheading—A Dance between Love and Death—was aptly provided by Dattani himself, when the play was first published in 2010.
Because that is indeed what the play is: a dance between two theatrical genres—comedy and tragedy.
A cast of eight, deftly directed by Rose Schwietz, delivers a production that sometimes sags under the weight of sentimental clichés but more often it rises to moments of sheer delight, all the while succeeding through the juxtaposition of two distinct genres. It is only after about twenty minutes into the play that we realise we are dealing with the dramatic device of a play within a play.
Coupled with the name itself (which is undoubtedly a reference to Macbeth’s lament, upon hearing Lady Macbeth’s passing: ‘And all our yesterdays, have lighted fool/ The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle,/ Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ Signifying nothing.’), the use of this device brings us face to face with the overarching Shakespearean resonance, which is further amplified by the recurrent use of a mask of death, called The Face of Cancer.
While impending death looms large on the horizon for the cancer patients in a hospice, they put up a farce as a fundraiser for the institution, based on a script written by a patient who had already passed away. Vikas, the deceased playwright, is ably played by Suraj Malla opposite Surabhi Sapkota’s heartfelt rendering of Deepika Dave, who is the doctor in charge of the hospice, Vikas’s ex-flame, and the manager of a hotel. The farce centres on a night’s experience at Hotel Staylonger (note the pun), where a bunch of travellers are put up for a night because of a flight postponed due to inclement weather conditions.
The characters are fluidly brought to life by the cast, with a particularly good performance by Sandeep Shrestha, who shines through noteworthy physical agility and intensely delivered emotions. Parikshit Bikram Rana and Bikash Joshi live up to the audience’s expectations, and are well supported by Bimba Adhikari and Madan Parajuli. Binita Thapa Magar switches between hilarity and personal tragedy with great skill. All the actors navigate the tragic world of the dying and the vaudeville chaos of a risqué farce with surprising efficiency. Umesh Tamang’s light design and Hemanta Chalise’s sound design are worthy of mention too.
The intriguing part is the text itself, which, on top of the difficult task of interweaving two opposing genres, handles multiple strands of time ceaselessly. Director Schwietz explains that her choice of the script was firstly based on it being an English language play originating in South Asia, which is not that common an occurrence, and because she has always been a fan of farces with serious content. She has obviously invested quite a lot of effort into physically training the actors into delivering beautifully choreographed sequences. The inventive use of props, namely umbrellas, are a happy and well-integrated surprise. The choreography acquires vital importance as the play progresses, and reveals the ‘danse macabre’ undertone that Dattani must necessarily have intended.
One World Theatre has once again brought us an exciting theatrical piece, one the theatregoing audience of Kathmandu should experience first-hand and pass judgment on, for it is a production that leaves us thinking—which I found was an unusual but a welcome place to be in.
Brief Candle is playing at Mandala Theatre on May 21-27.
Dasgupta is an Indian artist, art critic and actor based in Kathmandu.