As I was going my way to the Experimental Theatre, I was asked if I knew LaBute. I said no but I kind of lied…
Lies aside, Some Girls(s) is written by Neil LaBute and adapted by Akarsh Khurana. Nadir Khan directs the ensemble of Mukul Chadda, Radhika Mital, Shivani Tanksale, Tarana Raja Kapoor & Juhi Pande who proceed to strip the romantic entanglements of contemporary men and women of the romanticism.
One sees Mukul playing The Man who’s a BBC exec on the verge of getting married. As a pre-nup, he seeks out former girlfriends who he thinks he’s rubbed the wrong way to make up. The ones we see are merely a subset of the emotional churn he has left. The initial friendliness soon erupts into painful and angry confrontations. The Man gets a verbal hailstorm but each of the ex-flames has come hoping for some sort of closure but instead leaves the room slightly more wounded than before.
Shivani (Ritu) does a fair job with her portrayal of the simplistic girl-woman whose aspirations end at a vanilla existence. While Shivani’s innate sense of comic timing shines through, you can’t help but wonder if the graph of her character is stuck at the prom where she was dumped. That said, her character of the hometown girl who got left behind has the most convincingly wounded persona. You can feel her crumbling when she says that she thought he wanted to tell her that she was the-one-who-got-away…but it’s the tempo change from humour to rank emotion that’s truly impressive.
Juhi Pande plays Natasha - the clichéd designer with scruples resembling those of a politician. Natasha is possibly the most interesting character of the play with a lot of emotional bandwidth to play with. Unfortunately, deliberately or otherwise, we don’t see that translated onstage consistently. There are brief references to emotional subtext like when she mentions looking at his phone bills and realizing he was still calling an ex. That’s the only time you’re privy to her personal conflict and strength. It’s a deft touch but a little too deft for the audience to make any palpable connection with her. Except perhaps as an airhead sexpot.
It’s around the time of Radhika’s (Arunima) appearance on stage, you start feeling bad for Mukul. She plays the married-woman-left-behind role to the hilt with a kinkiness that’s mixed with a very real bitterness. It’s the rawest and most honest character onstage with aspects of revenge sex and cuckoldry. But there’s a fine line between giving a character texture and tacking on superfluous angles, and thankfully, Nadir keeps the sketch simple. It would be easy to make her the architect of a Crouching-Employer’s wife-Wounded-Filmmaker…
The last of the flickering flames is played by Tarana (Shivani) and it’s hard to fault her performance. It’s not that she peeled back layers of her character for us but rather the simplicity with which she essays her part that grips. An RJ making her theatrical debut? She could have fooled me. Her stage energy is really something else. She’s also the one he probably could have been happy with if he were capable of a mature, committed relationship. In fact, he actually asks her to marry him. Too complicated. Interestingly, hers is the first character that debates the nature of The Man’s psyche and, in particular, the fact that he has begun to use these relationships as grist for his career mill.
I think I would have liked the play more if The Man was not played by Mukul. His fidgety, Princeton-prep stage movement did not convey, to me, the duality of a womanizer, dislikeable to the core but charming to the fairer sex nevertheless. There was too much anxiety and vulnerability in the portrayal for a conflicted audience response. The Man’s confidence picks up steadily but if you based it on the first 5 minutes of the play you’d think his main line was “Er…” This Reviewer chalked the performance of The Man down to The ONE (Opening Night Energy).
From a visual perspective, all the sets are static hotel bedrooms underlining not only the repetitiveness of The Man's love life but also the redundancy of the thought process. The amours undergo almost identical emotional paths: repressed pain breaks through their composure followed by varying degrees of revenge. The only real change we see is The Man moving up the food chain. The women he pursues are increasingly sophisticated and multidimensional devices of justice. Sir, the mushrooms will now be called truffles if you will.
What does make you watch the play is the mirror it holds up for you to peer into. LaBute probes the throbbing dark side of individualism and his vision of modern men and women is unsparing. This play is not about the ex-flames. The playbook characters they represent seem almost naïve. The twist at the end The Man’s motivation behind the meetings is revealed as a desperate requirement for media content is clever but no more. No, this play makes the male protagonist a stand-in for every commitment-shy, self-absorbed, self-deluded contemporary man. It's not The Man’s being a serial relationship defector that makes him an "emotional terrorist" (it’s difficult to blame an eighteen-year-old for not wanting to settle down and an affair with a married woman is precisely that). It's the exploitativeness and the shallow getaways that broaden the scope of this emotional terrorist. And makes it rankle and hit home. See, every man knows LaBute. Intimately. We may not like what we see, but we can't deny that it exists. At least for some of u(s)…
- Avinash D'Souza
Investment Banker by day, Theatrewallah by night