Mumbai Mirror, Monday, June 18, 2007
“Script stars up the this night”
Jaimini Pathak’s production of Arabian Night manages to be interesting most of the time
Ronald Schimmelpfennig’s Arabian Night takes place at various levels – literally and otherwise, but it is a lot of fun on each one. A group of flats in a multi-storey have reported a leak in their water pipes and the caretaker sets out to repair it. On his way he bumps into Fatima Mansur the resident of flat 732 and we are introduced to the latter’s flatmate Francesca unfurling a saga which cuts through continents, time lines, fantasies and realities. An intercut jagged narrative revs the pace so much it will grab your attention by the collar and make it stay put. Fortunately foot-tapping music and full-bodied humour make the captivity enjoyable. All the actors do a tidy job of defining their characters and staying within their range, even embellishing them with a flourish now and then. Sadly they are so caught up in doing their job right, they forget to have fun on stage leaving the audience a little lonely in their revelry. And it isn’t just the audience they desert; the script too is left alone to underpin the story with its quirky spirited energy. But what is most sorely missing from the performances is the wicked sexuality that pumps the dialogue. The actors get coy and avoid eye contact with double meanings and puns dulling a lot of the edge. The choreography and aesthetics are non-fussy and efficient except in the climax when the stagecraft gets a little knotted up- literally and otherwise, again. Also this play does not lend itself to the kind of minimalism that has now become the mainstay of experimental theatre. It needs a little gloss and glamour; a little colour and shine to preen.
But that is not to say that it is no different from your regular no-brainer slapstick. Beneath the chutzpah and implausibilities of the plot, lies an all too familiar reality of urban existence. The residents of this German town halfway around the world are not too different from us. They don’t know their flatmates let alone their neighbours. There is barely any human touch in their lives hedged by work and routine. And when there is contact it is more likely to be sexual that emotional. Relationships like cultural uniqueness have lost meaning. People live out their lives tortured by loneliness and prejudices dreaming of other places, other possibilities, which they can hardly comprehend let alone escape to. It might not be as common for us to have neighbours from all over the globe as it is in Europe, but in India a Chettinad Brahmin can be as much of a foreigner to a Bhati Rajput as an Arab would be to a Englishman.
However, even though you might faintly perceive a mirror beneath the thickets of the plot, no point is hammered home. The script is a real winner experimenting wildly, twirling around with hysterical abandon. Jaimini Pathak’s brand new production might miss a beat or two but it mostly keeps step.