When mental health takes centre stage
. in a joyful and artistic way interspersed with thoughtful sense of humour
It's a coincidence that the evening I walked in to watch the theatrical production Tigers Be Still was the day I finished reading Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. But how can the depiction of depression be joyful, you may ask. Well, the answer to that lies in Honeyman's book and in the Kim Rosenstock's scripted play staged last weekend at The Junction, Alserkal Avenue. Kim is known for her writing for the television (New Girl) as well, and her play Tigers Be Still (2010) was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. Local production was ably directed by Gautam Goenka, with Saif Khan as assistant director, and Farzana Palathingal (Sherry), Aditi Nath (Grace), Khushil Doshi (Zack), and Gautam (Joseph) himself in the cast.
The play covers the many obvious as well as unsaid reasons of depression and isolation - from death to break-up and does so with a sensitive sense of humour. It's art therapist Sherry's (Farzana) journey of keeping 'together' her dysfunctional family, including a mum (we don't see her), who lives as a recluse in her bedroom after having gained weight due to certain medications and which results in her husband walking out on the family. A complicated household, indeed.
Farzana plays the central character, who is determined to fight her anxiety and make something good of her life. There's a Sherry in probably every workplace, and Farzana does a brilliant job of portraying a gamut of emotions; but then, nothing less is expected of this local actor. She's chatty, funny, restless and real. Having said that, one would like Farzana to experiment with different roles other than the bubbly girl-next-door for she is good at her craft. If you think that side roles don't get noticed, then Grace (Aditi), Sherry's sister, a jilted lover and a couch potato, proves you wrong. Sloth, anger, pain, love or helplessness, Aditi nails every expression with ease.
Gautam, who plays the school principal and a former lover of the mother, is effortlessly comic! He's also Zack's (Khushil) dad and Sherry's boss. Talk of a maze of emotions. Seventeen-year-old Khushil will win your heart with his boyish charm. While he is comfortable mouthing teenage-angst (swear words), he shines in the romantic scene with Farzana just as much as he does when he plays a younger version of his father with Sherry playing the counterpart (of her mum). All this happens against the backdrop of a tiger on the loose in the vicinity.
Technically, the sets were was lovely. Also, while the variation in the usage of lighting (even mobile's flash light) in the play will leave you pleased, the excessive (sometimes unnecessary) scene changes will leave you tired (even when the cast moves seamlessly during the same).
Did I mention the apt sound effects from the phone ringing to the dogs barking? Also, a critic in the audience pointed out something that every local production should ponder over - when most characters were played by actors of Indian origin, why not change the names of the characters to Indian names? Perhaps, creative liberties don't allow that, but valid reasoning from audiences' point of view. And now that we're nitpicking, why bring a paper bag of Operation Falafel on stage, when the tale is not set in the city.
Overall, I look forward to seeing more of Aditi and Khushil on stage. All the characters in this play are neither good nor bad, simply real, which is what makes them one amongst us. One would have loved to see more people watch it, for a lot of hard work goes into these shows. Hopefully, next time.