<%-- Page Title--%> Drama <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 127 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 24, 2003

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Society, Metam Orphosed

The Rhinoceros of Ionesco enjoys a staging in Dhaka

Mustafa Zaman

In The Rhinoceros, the absurdist drama of Eugene Ionesco, the French-Romanian playwright, we are introduced to a quirky kind of metamorphosis. Men and women mutate into rhinos. The process starts with a scampering rhino smashing market stalls on the city street and ends with everyone turning into this pachydermous creature except the protagonist.

Having the drama adapted in Bangla, is something that feels exceedingly inappropriate at the first reflection, as the Bangali psyche seems unfamiliar with the extremes of imaginary tableau, on which the drama thrives. Whatever irrational tales abound our folklore, the educated middle class has long been living in an abstracted comfort of urban modernism that considers the imagination in all its quirky shades unreliable. Therefore, modern men who are in denial of irrational aspects of life find themselves out of key with extraordinary thoughts.

It is the modern-day wholesale conformity in any given society that Ionesco addresses in his drama. In this respect its appeal is as Western as it is universal.

The Prachyanat brings The Rhinoceros to the Dhaka's Mohila Shomity Moncho. In their version the Eugenian absurdity meets the tensed, gesticulating presentation of Dhaka stage. The taut storyline ends up having loops and knots. The wit that seems to have been the driving force of the main drama remains a mainstay in the adaptation.

The stage, at the Mohila Shomity Moncho on the evening of 13 September, was packed with 70's TV drama's retro-style cityscape built with rectangular windows cut into four or five layers of thick canvases. They were stretched out one after another receding to the back, filling out the stage both horizontally and vertically. This heavyweight backdrop in front of which every act takes place created a semblance of a narrow alley.

The first scene starts with the shop owners trying to entice the wandering customers. The Europian ambiance remains a high point in the drama's design at this stage. The protagonist sits at a stall with his friend and the others look here and there in groups and they take turns in making their voices heard. It is a marvelous ploy to have presented the whole scene where everybody is talking to everybody else but the voices that the spectators hear are the ones that the director wants them to hear. While one group talks, the others just keep up their acts through mime. The comic effect that this produces seems perfectly at home with the even more comical outcome that awaited these humans. Turning into rhinos certainly is as comical as it is tragic.

The Prachyanat version, though expressionistic in nature, seems to want to blend the comic with the tragic.

The staging of Gondar, Rhinoceros, was preceded by one and a half months' hard work by the crew and their chieftain, Kazi Towfikul Islam Emon. Emon, the director, reveals how it resulted out of the drama courses that the Prachyanat school of Drama and Design are conducting. The school is running its fifth batch of students this year. With a course duration of six months, the school has produced a number of graduates. Many students joined the group after completing the course. Upon completion each group of students stage a play chosen by the school. The Rhinoceros was staged by the students of the second batch. Although most of cast belonged to that batch, there are few from other batches too.

A scene from first act.

“Out of 14 participants 12 of them are new recruits, they joined Prachynat right after they completed their course in drama,” says Emon, who has been a founder member
of the group.

The opportunity to have Eugene's play in the Dhaka's moncho (stage) is one thing they did not want to miss. Therefore, the play premiered with its new newer members cast in the roles and hopefully it will see its regular staging in Dhaka.

At the drama's premiere, the varied crowd was pleased to get the taste of a different beat of absurdity, a kind that avoids morbidity and banks on wit. Still, with a cast that is fairly new to the craft of dramaturgy, the Bangla version of The Rhinoceros seemed a wee bit on the dramatic side. The mannered acting by some cast members made the sequences of the last few acts look forced and fervid. For an absurdist, witty drama like this the frenzied movements of the actors, overtly expressionistic stances and the delirious, flittering of lights seemed only to have meddled with the real scenario in which every action unfolds its surprises in an intelligent fashion. Perhaps the lure to make the sequences of Rhino sightings dramatic played a role here. The rhinos are not seen on stage, as such the reaction of the cast and their expression were used as the index of surprise, awe, excitement and disgust.

The director let us know that the exaggerated gestures are a ploy to avoid monotony. They are to offset the absence of the real action, most of which takes place off stage. The spectators are left with what verbal reaction and physical action of the cast tell them.

The Intellectual, played by Abid Hossain (left) and Baringer, played by Monirul Islam in a scene.

As for the adaptation, the main Bangla script went through a thorough mutation. “We came across the script by Zahurul Haque in a Bangla Academy journal, and it was an adaptation where even the names of the cast were changed to fit it to an indigenous setting,” stresses Emon. The Prachyanat simply resorted to the original script and renounced the adaptation into a translation. “A lot of correcting took place as far as the dialogue is concerned, as there were arcane Bangla expressions in the adapted one that are never in use in verbal expression,” contends Emon.

Although it was written in the context of the rise of Nazism, Rhinoceros is a play that harps on the theme of lack of resilience on the part of the masses to remain pluralistic. Plurality was a subject that the modernist playwrights of the last century glorified, they did not have the chance to witness the degeneration of democracies around the world into media manipulated conformist societies. But, the question that the play raises is of relevance to this day because of this very reason.

The resolute protagonist Baringer, who witnesses his intellectually inclined friend, his paramour, his boss and colleagues turn into rhinos, finds it very hard to keep up his resistance against becoming a rhino himself. Barinjer is shattered emotionally, if not physically, while trying to find the rationale of being alone in his effort. He almost finds himself out of his wit and common sense, yet he sticks to his decision to remain a human unlike the whole population of his hometown.

Baringer is played by Monirul Islam Rubel. In most acts he played it in a much more resigned fashion than Md. Abid Hossain, who played the role of his friend Jean. Daisy, the girlfriend of Baringer played by Mehely Rose, seemed natural in her countenance. One who stole the show was the intellectual played by Hira Chowdhury. Enamul Haq too had astutely played the old man, the admirer of the intellectual. These two new recruits of Prachynat seemed to have given the drama a breath of fresh air, although it was only in the first act that these two appeared.

Rhino by Ionesco, and by Prachyanat are based on the same premise; the only difference is in expression. Physical action and manipulation of lights superseded the comically textured grim reality of strange metamorphosis. The respite was provided by the music. Composed by the young, yet the most seasoned, Rahul Anand, the staccato beats layered with long growls of instruments made out of bamboos struck an affinity with strangeness of the goings on in the stage.



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