Point of View - Padmini M.P. reviews 'Classic Milds'

Who would ever have believed that cricket would one day be compressed into twenty compact overs and gotten done with in a couple of hours? Well, an idea as outrageous as that happened…and to everyones raging delight at that. Keeping with the season of the 20-20s, (ibid)’s Classic Milds is a 2 hour collection of five famous classic short works. The playwrights include George Kaufman, Noel Coward, Harold Pinter, Neil Simon and Tom Stoppard.

The evening at NCPA started off with a rather bizarre ‘conversation’ where three men fishing (apparently) go back and forth in discussion about…nothing in particular. The conversation meanders until it finally makes its point - a request to the audience to switch off their cell phones. I was quite relieved that this was not part of the play. It required a certain effort to keep tuned to the things they were discussing. And clearly, Sunday evenings are not meant for that much of an effort.

Each of the five plays was formally introduced by a young man and woman who came on stage before each piece. The ‘introducers’ tell you a little about the playwright and the setting, cleverly drawing attention away from the sets being changed in the background for the next piece.

The first play was ‘Seduction’ where the play begins with the protagonist Peter Semyonich speaking to the audience to boast of his prowess in seducing the wives of other gentlemen. The play is an illustration of his skills and a demonstration of how he is the world's greatest seducer. Peter’s strategy works like clockwork and his every move seems to get him closer to his ‘typical Russian beauty’ – all but the one last blow. Being the opening piece of the night, the play had high expectations and easily lived up to it. As soon as the play opens, one may probably think that Hidaayat Sami has been miscast as Peter but his dialogue delivery seemed to make up for the lack of charm that Semyonych is expected to exude. Faisal Rashid as the husband did a great job and drew laughter from the audience easily. However, Sonia Bindra in her role as the Russian wife seemed to sleep walk through the whole play. Her initial disinterest in Peter, her keenness later, her eagerness while probing her husband to know everything that Peter would say about her – all of them seemed to have been played with the same lack of enthusiasm. Also, as the ethereal beauty she was meant to be, one would expect Sonia to sizzle on stage. Instead, her make up was very disappointing and was rather oily.

Following this, there was ‘Still Life’. This follows the romance of three couples of different ages and classes in the society and was an attempt to contrast the difference in the complications there may be for the each of them. However, the play failed to bring that contrast out. Rather, at times, it seemed like a hotchpotch of activity, as there were way too many people on the stage and one did not know who to focus on. This playlet, however, did have some very good shadow work where the simple young couple seemed happy in the shadows and the upper class couple seemed confused and immersed in their entangled fate in the foreground. As the three couples flirt, cuddle and embrace on the stage, their accents were a bit unsettling too. Either the director should have let everyone speak the way they normally do or turned everyone towards a ‘received’ accent. Malaika Shenoy’s accent especially seemed to stand apart from the rest of the cast. The lack of consistent accents was more so conspicuous after having watched a perfect ‘English’ accent delivered by Mahabanoo in Shirley Valentine the previous week at the very same venue. Here too, as the elegant Laura Jesson, it would have been great if Malaika could have made her hair look better.

One for the Road, definitely the one that was different from the rest. This was the only serious play for the evening and had a brilliant performance by Adhir Bhat. Adhir played an incarcerated man who is eventually freed but only after having paid too much of a price. Siddharth Kumar as the sadist torturer was miscast. His menace did not seem to reach across to you at all, and the character ended up looking like a spoof from a very bad comedy film. In spite of the letdown by the torturer; as the tortured, Adhir stole the last scene. The closing scene that had Adhir pleading for his son seemed to stay with you even after the lights had gone off. It was only when the narrators reappeared that the audience stopped hearing the echo of his cries and broke into applause.

A Separate Peace generated the most laughs. We were introduced to a Mr. Brown who checks himself into a hospital - in perfect health – just because he would be expected to not do anything there. Although no one quite understood why he would save up to be in the hospital or why he would not contact his relatives, they couldn’t help actually liking the character who wants to do nothing. Warren D’ Silva did perfect justice to the salt and pepper Brownie he plays. His quick retorts, his mannerisms, the way he would seem amused at the Matron who asks him to leave the hospital - brought to life an eccentric man the audience fell in love with. This is carried forward to the extent that you are actually left feeling sorry when he decides to check out, er, move out.

The last piece for the day was the enjoyable ‘The Still Alarm’. This is set hilariously on a hotel floor that is just about to be consumed by fire. The hotel guests however have a myriad of distractions – fire being the last thing on their minds. The two guests, the bell boy and the firemen perform a classic comedy as the hotel is engulfed in flames. The plan of a building, the contents of the suitcase, even the crowd that gathers around the hotel seem to interest the occupants of the room more than the fact that all the floors underneath have been scorched. The absolute icing was when one of the firemen starts practicing his guitar and finally breaks into Johnny Cash. What would you expect the men to do? Be a gent and encourage the boy by listening to him.

The interesting thing about short plays is that they are mostly power packed and don’t let the attention of the audience to dip at all. Classic Milds did its justice to that expectation - be it the notorious Peter telling the audience that the next scene wasn’t for the faint hearted or the distant hooting of the train implying the urgency for the couple to separate or the part when the sedentary Brownie starts to paint on the wall. All were well directed pieces that kept the audience from checking their cell phones for smses.

In spite of its minor flaws and shortcomings, Classic Milds is a good watch on a Sunday evening. Definitely if you are a person who likes to get the most packed into a mere couple of hours. Five Authors, Five Plays, Two Hours. I would say watch it.