Pirandello O Puppeteer – A play connecting the present in the reflection of a historical biography

Posted by Kaahon Desk On July 12, 2019

Luigi Pirandello is the most controversial and talked about dramatist of the 20th century, yet very little is known of his personal lifestyle. Chandan Sen’s play ‘Pirandello O Puppeteer’ is a retrospective effort to understand the Italian dramatist, poet, and novelist on the background of contemporary times, and to shed some light on his obscure life stories. This play has been produced by Aneek theatre group and directed by Arup Roy. It was recently staged on the Academy of Fine Arts on 4th of July, though this review is based on the performance of the 1st of April.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

This play presents us with a complete picture of the life of Pirandello, along with a beautiful depiction of the social, economic, and cultural situations of his contemporary Italy. It demands special importance in our current times, and that is evident from the start. As if it’s a picture of our times in the mirror of theatre. Pirandello had united his strengths with Mussolini, buying into his illusory dreams. And not only Pirandello, a fair share of the intellectuals all over the world were mesmerized by Mussolini, and Rabindranath was not an exception. Rabindranath and Mussolini had a meeting in the year of 1926, on 13th June, and Rabindranath said to him ‘You are the most misunderstood person on earth, and I am very happy to finally meet you, and it has cleared my misconceptions of you’. But Rabindranath was quick to understand his mistake, supplemented by his friend Romain Rolland. But Pirandello had no friend like Romain Rolland to point out his mistakes. He only understood his mistake from his harsh and cruel experiences. He was late to realize, and spent his later life burning in the agony of remorse and penance.

Pirandello faced hardships from the beginning of his life. His father, owner of a Sulphur mine, rich Stephano was an ill-tempered person, who had the knack for dominating his wife and children. He was infamous for his polygamous practices, which grossly un-stabilized his family’s harmony, which troubled Pirandello from a very early age. His only refuge was his mother Catrina, he loved his mother as much as he hated his father. Pirandello’s father accepted a huge amount of dowry to marry him off with Maria Portulano, who was mentally unstable. When Mussolini was busy selling his dreams of a new Italy, a culturally superior Italy to the citizens who have suffered a great deal during the first world war, Pirandello desired to create a national theatre and museum in the model of the Russian Art theatre. Mussolini gathered Pirandello’s support for his Fascism, by promising him help (falsely) to build his dream. But the promises never materialized. Although he later distanced himself from Mussolini’s Fascism, he was never really able to forgive himself. In the year of 1925, at the age of fifty-eight he was introduced with a twenty-five-year-old actress Martha Abba. Before that he had only written a couple of plays, and a few poems, stories, articles, and novels. But Martha became his muse, and the writer Pirandello became a fully-fledged dramatist. Martha Abba acted in his plays one after another. At the age of eighty-eight, Martha reminisced of her sir Pirandello on her deathbed, talking about the horrors of fascist Italy. By the time Pirandello left this world (1936) he had only seen the infancy of fascism. After that the world has witnessed the dystopia of fascism, which has greatly affected the human life and culture. The similarities between the projected society of the play and our current society is evident. The rampant use of fear and greed to generate support from the intellectuals is an eternal practice. The rulers always aim to control the meritorious and the established, in order to control the mass. This play transports us to our current times, in our current India or Bengal, where the dark shadows of fascism are gradually blurring our horizons of civilization and culture. This play acts as a word of warning for the creative and mindful people of our society. Pirandello’s self-reproach and remorse should provide them with inspiration in the fight against fascism. This well timed production from Aneek in this critical stage of our civilization is a mark of their accountability to the society.

There are three Pirandello in this play. Three stages of his life have been acted by three different actors. Krishnendu Chakraborty in the adolescence, Dilip Mujumdar in the middle age, and elderly Pirandello’s been acted by Arup Roy. All three of them lighted up the three stages with their hearty acting. Arup Roy has constructed the character convincingly with his fluent and measured acting. Tapati Bhattacharya in the role of Marth Abba makes a strong impression on the audience. In the retrospect of her previous roles it is noticeable how much effort she invests to recreate herself according to the characters. Angsuman Dasgupta in the role of Stephano perfectly depicts the ill-tempered, intolerant, and harsh tone of the character. Suchitrita Ghosh in the role of Catrina beautifully illustrates the symbolic prototype of dominated womanhood. On the whole the quality of acting in very high. Pronunciation, locution, and body-language of the actors have an air of educated practice about them.

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Neel Kaushik’s stage decoration is minimal and meaningful. A few vertical white curtains hand about the stage, along with a few stools and bookshelves. A short podium has been set in the middle. A picture of a tilted pen on the curtains, and a detached hanging hand on the left side of the stage have symbolic significance. The mosaic of light and darkness created by Sashanka Mondal illustrates Pirandello’s psychological conflict and the chaos of his times. Use of dimmed light throughout the performance and bright light at the climax adds a new dimension to the production. More use of silence was desired in Nagen Dutta’s music. At times suspended sounds have conflicted with the dialogues. In certain times soundlessness creates the strongest impression.

This is not only a biographical play; it is a burning image of a particular time. A play that aids us to measure the present time in the retrospect. In the list of Aneek’s productions ‘Pirandello o Puppeteer’ is a prominent addition. When the current crop in mostly busy in practicing ‘safe’ theatres, in our current socio-political situation, Aneek theatre group and director Arup Roy deserve special credit and compliments for this brave and important production.

Pradip Datta
A post-graduation diploma holder of the Department of Media Studies, University of Calcutta, he has been a theatre activist in Bengal for the last twenty five years. He is a freelance journalist by profession. Besides theatre, his passion includes recitation, audio plays and many more.

Translation: Harit Chowdhury

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