Solo acts keep audience riveted

Theatre TIME

Solo acts keep audience riveted

The background panels have words like ‘Ludi’, ‘Cifut’, ‘Hebreo’, written on them. In the front is placed a trunk on one side and a table and chair on the other. A man dressed in a long black coat with a hat tilts his head at an angle to ensure that just his stubble is visible.

Even before one sees his face, the preconceived notions about the character of ‘Shylock’ from Merchant of Venice, flash through the mind. Expect Guy Masterson to reiterate the sentiments like many others who have adapted Shakespeare’s different works and you’re proved wrong. For this artiste takes you through a topsy-turvy tale while incorporating his views on the bard’s written words, thereby creating humour.

Playing the character of Tubal (Shylock’s friend in the original play) initially, Masterson presents the age-old story in a short and interesting ma­n­ner while leaving more space and time for engaging theatrical techniques, intelligent dialogue delivery and ofcourse critical analysis of the text.

Directed and researched well by Gareth Armstrong, the play enacted by Masterson is a crisp remark on the character and anguish of Jews in the history of mankind. Even while playing multi-characters the veteran actor does justice to all of them, especially Tubal (who hardly gets anything to do in a long play.) One can actually rename the play as ‘Tubal’ instead of Shylock since it appears as an ode
to those characters who are forgotten in between long plays.

The credit for detailed research goes to Armstrong who used to perform the play himself earlier. But Masterson thinks he plays the part better. “My Tubal is much funnier,” says the actor and Metrolife agrees because the artiste switches from one character to another in mere fraction of a second and with a distinctive and stylish elegance. 

Even if one hasn’t read the play, it won’t be difficult to understand it since the actor provides the information from the original text, while presenting the critical analysis of the same. But he doesn’t like to call it a “play”. That seems justified as the performance has more of story-telling and does appear like a “glorified theatrical lecture”.

For the audience, it is a lesson on Jews and their history learnt in this hour-long class through a teacher who enlivens it with a generous dose of witty remarks.
One strains hard to decipher what the sole male actor present on the stage is saying. But even after all that straining and striving one fails to remember the
performance as a ‘good experience’, just like in real life one fails to appreciate what disability really is and what a disabled person actually wants!

Standing among the audience at India Habitat Centre’s Stein Auditorium, this reviewer felt inadequate to write about the performance If These Spasms Could Speak that was virtually indecipherable, yet touched the emotional chord somewhere.

For once the audience could easily comment that the character on stage (Robert Softley Gale) has been ‘enacted well’ but there is no parameter to judge the actor playing the part since ‘cerebral palsy’ is what he lives his life with, even off the stage.

Gale crawls on stage and talks to the audience members. He soon climbs on the single sofa placed in the centre of the performance area and shares narratives from his life and those of others who have a disability, quite unabashedly. With his gentle talk he takes us through funny, sad, touching and surprising narratives interspersed with the views of others. But he ensures that the humour is present throughout, thus compe­lling those present to stay with him throughout.

One feels there should have been a better collar mike to facilitate louder delivery of dialogues to be heard clearly till the last rows. But the occupying images and videos projected in the backdrop keep peop­le hooked on to his talk. Gale admits, “Videos made the connection with audiences and the impact stronger” while informing about the birth of this play.
“I was on holiday with my partner a few years ago...we were celebrating his great academic achievement with a couple of champaign cocktails but as soon as they were set down on our table my hand spasms and I knocked them all over both of us. Now things like that are obviously annoying, but they also show that disabled people have experie­nces that are unique to us and that inform who we are. So the play came from a desire to share these stories,” Gale told Metrolife. He added that he then collected stories of four other people and “adapted them to make them more theatrically interesting.”

It is though not an easy task to laugh about one’s disability, yet the actor does it with cert­ain boldness while ensuring that the aesthetics of the drama do not get diluted.

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