Direction : Rahul Rai and Shivam Sharma
Cast : Aakash Prabhakar, Anaka Kaundinya, Arjun Radhakrishnan and Sereine Walia

ORPHANS Play Review

Deepa Punjani

No upcoming shows.

A friend and a Shakespeare scholar from Albuquerque in New Mexico in the USA, has written me a sombre email. While quoting from the bard's play CYMBELINE: 'Does the world go round'? he expressed his feelings at the recent spate of attacks in Orlando and in Istanbul, the BREXIT situation...among the general incoherence that has overtaken our world these days. For a Russian Jew whose father emigrated to the States and changed their family name Ginsburg to the American-sounding Gaines, perhaps to lead a better and more secure life, and whose son and daughter continue to risk hostilities, being gay and lesbian, the British King Cymbeline's words must have an aching resonance. I haven't yet been able to give an appropriate response to this dear and thoughtful man. I hope this review of Dennis Kelly's play ORPHANS (2009) will.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a production of the play, co-directed by Shivam Sharma and Rahul Rai. It was a poor production by most standards, thoroughly misplaced with its namesake 'Indianised' adaptation, but it still miraculously conveyed the play's brilliance and topicality. Kelly's characters are just the kind of people who have won Donald Trump his ticket as the Presidential candidate of the GOP and who have voted for BREXIT.

Kelly's drama is dark and ironic like all good British theatre, and ultimately tragic. Even as it attempts to explain and give a past to the entrenched racism and the perceived fears of its three characters (wife Helen, husband Danny and the wife's brother Liam), it exposes the majoritarian community and lays bare its collective irrationalities and its equal appetite for violence. Slowly, it peels away the layers of genteelness that we mask and suppress beyond the facades of education, career and our well-placed middle-class selves. The 'out there' racism is in the home, although the play somewhat justifies it as a product of a dysfunctional childhood. The husband's (Danny) terrible and eventual complicity prevents a facile ending and prods us to recognize our own demons and face inconvenient truths.

The Orlando attacks on a gay club, the violence in Turkey, or BREXIT are all separate incidents that cannot be naively equated. Yet they are deeply connected by intolerance of various stripes, both inside and outside their countries, contributing to a vicious cycle of divisiveness and otherness. This state of mind effectively becomes the high moral playground of loony, right wing politicians to exploit and finds support with the renewed neo Nazis as emulated by the brother (Liam) in Kelly's play. Kelly's play in a sense is a manifestation of our primal fears and the breakdown of our civilization in spite of the enormous leaps in science and technology. Danny and Helen's lives have changed overnight. As Danny tells Helen to abort their child at the end of the play with a view to restore the scales of justice, it is still no consolation. The damage appears irreversible and our humanity stands condemned.

As the two big countries of the world find themselves at historical crossroads, and also as the Middle East must deal with Islamic radicalism with much of the Muslim world in dire need of self-examination and reckoning, Kelly's play is a grave reminder that dividers, whatever their orientation is, will only create devils. To my friend I quote yet another perceptive bard Paul Simon: How can you live in the Northeast/How can you leave in the South/How can you build on the banks of a river when the floodwater pours from the mouth?

To our great detriment, that's precisely what we are hell bent on doing.

*Deepa Punjani is the editor of this website.

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