Direction : Rehaan Engineer
Writer : Naomi Wallace
Cast : Kalki Koechlin, Dipika Roy Kewalramani, Rajat Kapoor, Jim Sarbh and Hitesh Bhojraj


Deepa Punjani

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ONE FLEA SPARE play review

The smell of death is varied but certain. Those in close proximity with death have known this. They have known it even better under harsher circumstances when death has marked a person. The "marked" in earlier times provide us with vivid imagery of what hell must be like. You don’t have to wait to find out. One famous example from recorded history is the plague that besieged London in the 1660s, known as ‘The Great Plague". It had been spreading for a while and it was suspected to be brought over by the Dutch trading ships. The flea that feasted on the infected rats carrying the plague infected humans in turn and if you were a believing Christian like most of them were at the time, the face of Satan had arrived. In any case London was ravaged.

It is against this morbid background that American, award-winning playwright, Naomi Wallace has set up her deeply riveting drama exploring themes of Oppression, Patriarchy and Christianity. A natural disaster or an epidemic of this proportion can be a great equaliser but the rich still have it relatively easier. Wallace not only intuitively understands the mechanisms of inequality reflected in that most primal of relationships between master and slave and husband and wife, but also is aware of the Abrahamic beliefs that sanctify these relationships of dominance and power as well as the inherent conflicts they give rise to. The interplay of the oppressor and the oppressed, the perversity that faith sanctions subtly or otherwise in that never-ending saga of guilt and repentance make this dramatic oeuvre deeply humanistic and morally courageous. This is also a story steeped in lyricism though the landscape is thoroughly hopeless and bleak.

Such a play must travel.

ONE FLEA SPARE play reviewOne of our own intrepid theatre directors has taken it on in a fine production that does justice to the play’s sub-texts contained in the more outwardly story of its characters – a wealthy husband (Rajat Kapoor) and wife (Dipika Roy), a sailor (Jim Sarbh), a young girl (Kalki Koechlin) and a guard (Hitesh Malukani) who has business to make at the expense of the others. Under Rehaan Engineer’s meticulous direction the play breathes not only the foul smelling plague-ridden air but also intensely draws us into a forced household of unequals where role-reversal is more than just a game.

This is a good team and Rehaan Engineer knows how to be exacting as he has previously demonstrated as well. Jim Sarbh and Kalki Koechlin are superlative in their roles; he is a man who knows the world and is keenly aware of his status while she is a child wise beyond her years, who doubles as the narrator of this grim tale. Dipika Roy particularly surprises with her very effective portrayal of Mrs. Snelgrave. Rajat Kapoor as the husband and upper class Christian (Mr. Snelgrave) plays his character with restraint and a quiet aggression though there is a whisper of a struggle with the language. Hitesh Malukani makes a cheeky quarantine guard who does not hesitate to exploit.

There has been a spartan quality to Rehaan Engineer’s productions heightened by the human voice, the use of lights and sound combining to convey an impact that is at once sophisticated and sincere. Arghya Lahiri’s light design is in consonance with this world in which there is no redemption but for the poetic words, which its writer invokes, especially towards the end. Naren Chandavarkar’s sound design adds another sombre layer and recognizes the essential human sound of despair be it is civil or ruffian. There is grit as well. Telling instances of humour are a way of retaliation and coping up, even a reminder of our collective adversity. But there is no letting up one way or the other.

In the end we are all marked, or as the child speaks:

"Our lives are but a splash of water on a stone, nothing more. Then I am the stone on which they fell, and they have marked me. So beware, because I loved them, and they have marked me."

Deepa Punjani is the editor of this website.

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