Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Elephant Wrestler
The story centers on Kutisar, the poor purveyor of a chai tea stand in the Bangalore railway station. His business is pathetic until seven orphaned sisters appear at his stand. Their beautiful singing draws a crowd of onlookers and not only raises some much needed cash for the girls but also brings out a few members of the criminal underbelly of Bangalore, with the intent to take the cash and do harm. Fortunately, a policeman appears to protect the girls and Kutisar too, and over the next 90 minutes the decades-long journey of these people forms an evening of theatrical storytelling that you won't soon forget.
Based partly on an Indian fairytale called "Punchkin," which is also the name of the policeman who plays a major part in the many twists and turns of the story, The Elephant Wrestler whisks the audience away to a faraway place with people and situations many of us have never before encountered. The play focuses on many themes, from the corruption and class struggle throughout India, to the conflict between traditional Indian values, culture and mythology, to the ideas of the Western world with the desire for electronic goods and even traditional chai tea verses Starbucks. It is a rich story, with fully fleshed out characters and themes, all brought to life by a master storyteller.
Aided by just some oversized fake teeth and a scarf, the overly expressive Rajan was extremely adept at not only portraying the vast number of characters in the piece but also drawing the audience into the story with his powerful, yet warm voice and commanding stage presence. He also used comedy and even a few magic tricks to help tell the story. There were many moments when you could tell the audience was on the edge of their seats with the anticipation of what Rajan would tell us next in the tale of Kutisar. With minimal sets and props and some evocative lighting, director Justin Lewis, who co-wrote the play with Rajan, has adeptly staged the show to make it vibrant even with the small and easy to travel production.
Though the touring production of The Elephant Wrestler is on the small side, both in sets and cast size, the production still worked well in the large SCPA Virginia G. Piper Theater. The stadium-style seating of the venue provided unobstructed sight lines as well as clear sound which worked well for the audience involvement aspects of the show and gave the music a deep vibrancy and lushness that filled the theater.
When Rajan first came onto the stage, he told the audience that by the end of the evening all of our troubles would be gone. When the show was over, he admitted that he couldn't actually make our troubles go away, since our problems are our problems, though he did add, holding out an empty cup, "Your life is a cup. Fill it with what you want." That simple statement perfectly placed the ordeal that Kutisar went through in a whole new lightwhile our problems may never go away we will most likely never ever encounter the corruption, struggle and feelings that Kutisar did. That alone made my problems feel much lighter when the performance ended than they did before.
For more information on Indian Ink Theatre Company, The Elephant Wrestler, and possible future tour stops, go to Indianink.co.nz.
The Elephant Wrestler performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday January 24th 2014. Information for upcoming concerts and shows at the SCPA can be found at scottsdaleperformingarts.org