Direction : Savitri Medhatul
Writer : Dario Fo & Franca Rame
Cast : Kiyomi Mehta


Deepa Gahlot


Dario Fo and Franca Rame's A Woman Alone has had many, many productions all over the world and in India, in multiple languages. A one-actor play is always tempting to pick up, especially one that talks about the pathetic condition of women in a patriarchal society.

A Woman Alone, originally written in 1977, brought out issues that remained under the radar in a conservative, Catholic Italian society (divorce was not possible before the Seventies), but now have been discussed so often, that the play, done in 2021 Mumbai, adapted and directed by Savitri Medhatul, seems dated. This is the post #MeToo world, women's sexuality is no longer whispered about; Indian OTT shows and some films beat the drum of sexual independence for women very loudly and get a lot of media attention. So how much can a new generation relate to a simpering woman, trapped in a domestic hell? Heck, you might find yourself thinking, she has access to a phone, why does she not ask for help? Forty-four years ago, she would probably have been told to shut up and not make a fuss; today, at least in an urban area, there is no virtue in suffering.

So while, women still endure domestic violence, sexual harassment, groping, peeping toms and the suffocating drudgery of household chores-and who would not identify with all this?-there is also a certain degree of freedom that comes with education and the availability of outlets to share angst-even if it is just an internet support group for desperate housewives.

Most productions of this play, have created a set design that conveys a woman caught up by never-ending demands-a possessive husband, an incapacitated brother-in-law whose paws her when she is forced to care for him, a constantly bawling male baby, a sex-pest phone caller, and a man who spies on her from the window of the opposite apartment-the set in this production is just functional.

The tiring slog of housework had been portrayed in several productions by the woman ironing a pile of clothes. Shraddha (Kiyomi Mehta), in Medhatul's version, is seen knitting! Later, she is also shown to be folding laundry, but all this just looks like it was meant to give the performer something to do with her hands; it is undoubtedly tough to perform solo on stage, so whatever helps the actor concentrate works, you suppose.

While dealing with the obscene calls, the voyeur, the "bhaisaab" inside summoning her with a horn, and the husband checking on her over the phone, Shraddha chats with the audience, and answers questions presumably asked by someone out there. She pretends to be happy with her fridge, washing machine and TV, while revealing later, in the same flip tone, that she had slashed her wrists in the past.

She has been locked at her home by her husband, as punishment for an affair (the husband's own infidelity does not count!) with a teenager in the neighbourhood, who, not surprisingly, showed her how unsatisfactory sex with her selfish husband had been. The young man refuses to let go, however, and turns up at her door, pushing a hand through a space in her door and making peremptory gestures.

Written by master satirists (and activists), the play is darkly comical and keeps the audience's reaction to Shraddha balanced between sympathy and mild contempt, but it did need an update for today's times, particularly the lockdown year that imprisoned women indoors and threw them into a chaos of minding the house without help, and doing office work from home too. Sadly, domestic abuse and unequal relationships remain no matter how much women may have progressed, and even today, women tend to equate love and happiness with household possessions, so it is possible to laugh at Shraddha's problems, but it is hard to feel sorry for her.

The latest production of A Woman Alone, is adequate; it churns up enough humour (a noisy anchor fulminating on an off-stage TV never fails to get a chuckle), but why be satisfied with just being amusing when a punch in the gut was within reach?

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on
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