When I realized that a play by the famous actor Steve Martin, which had also drawn more than its fair share of controversy, was going to be staged by
a young Bangalore-based theatre group, I was very intrigued, and contrary to my usual habit of not travelling across town for a play, did so…and was not disappointed.
Set in a Parisian bar in 1904, the play imagines a comical encounter between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, both of whom are in their early twenties and fully aware of their amazing potential. Not content with this, Steve Martin introduces an incontinent sot (Gaston), a gullible bartender (Freddy), a wise waitress (Germaine), along with a few surprise characters, walking in and out of the Lapin Agile.Since the shows are over, I will not be spoiling anything by saying that this time it was Elvis, and the character was beautifully done…and sung!
The Lapin Agile ("The Nimble Rabbit") is a cabaret that was the favourite hangout of artists, musicians and actors of the time.
The play was first read with Tom Hanks, the famous movie actor, reading the role of Picasso, and Chris Sarandon reading the role of Albert Einstein. It was then staged in Chicago, and the play continues to be popular.
Let me first give the names of the cast, in order of appearance, as given by the excellent brochure produced by Tahatto to accompany the staging of the show.
Freddie: Venkataraghavan S; Gaston, Siddarth Kumar; Germaine, Supriya Uthaiah; Albert Einstein- John Machampilly; Suzanne- Shalini Rao; Sagot- Piyush Agarwal; Picasso- Rijul Ray; Schmendiman- Deepak Richard; The Countess- Kalyani Nair; The Visitor- Prashanth Nair.
The cast jelled so well as a unit that it was a pleasure to watch them perform, and the synergy between them resulted in a high level of stagecraft. The comic timing was excellent, and made for good theatre. Of course, Steve Martin’s lines are very funny, but they were not fluffed by the actors.
The director, Vaisakh Shankar, and his assistant, Prashanth Nair, proved that good direction is direction that is hardly visible to the audience. Most of their work had been done before the performance, which went very smoothly (or at least, without glitches visible to the audience). Both the light design, bu Lakshmi Menon, and the sound, by Ashok Vasudevan, were well-handled.
The stage setting was well done, too, evoking the bygone era, and the design consultant, Suhana Medappa, and the production managers, Remya Rameshan and Lakshmi Menon, can take a bow for this.
The costumes were very good, too, and I should compliment Remya Rameshan and Lakshmi Menon. Certainly the flowing lines of the women’s clothes and the old-fashioned suits and suspenders were successful in bringing back the early years of the twentieth century to the stage.
There was a good house, too, in spite of the fact that it was the middle of the week, and the audience had braved a heavy downpour to get there.
As they have been mentioned in the brochure, and I did feel that they, too contributed to the success of the show, I must mention the finance and ticketing by Vikram Sridhar, marketing and promotion by Prashanth, Vikram and Piyush, the ushers, Rubaina Unnikamu and Raagini Lalwaini, and the photography by Adity Sivagnanam Chandan and Smitha D’Souza…. for all these people, as much as the directors or the cast, it must have been satisfying to have a full house.
And a full house it was! There was so much of enjoyment of the play that I briefly wondered if the auditorium were full of friends of the cast and crew…but I had seen everyone paying for the Rs.200 tickets, so I knew that was not the case. The enthusiasm of the audience was quite contagious, and the cast turned in a sterling performance.
I walked out into the rainy evening after the show, sure that Tahatto is a group that I need to watch…and a group that discerning playgoers need to watch, too! I hope they put up a serious piece of theatre next, and hone their stagecraft still further.
Way to go, Tahatto!