Furthering the Little Theatre  
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
e-mail: padmajayaraj@gmail.com

December 6, 2008 
Rengachethana based in Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala, has been in the forefront of experiments in theatre for the past 27 years. It has been imparting training to amateur theater groups including children, by conducting workshops and seminars and by giving a venue for shows and festivals. Its recently held annual drama fest showcased 10 short plays of the year 2008. The five-day program enriched public awareness as eminent people spoke on different aspects of Theatre. Almost all plays are amateur in execution, devoid of stage décor and spectacle. 
The first day, presented a solo-performance, 'KO Rangan' by Jayaprakash Kuloor, Samayam Nataka Vedi, Payyannur, Kerala. Enacted by Satheesan the show surprised in many ways. A too familiar Panchatantra tale acquired untold dimensions.  Physical theater as a mode of expression is used for greater concentration on themes that the play projects. The happiness in companionship, the agony of waiting, the pain of betrayal, the joy of homecoming and love for environment are woven into a simple story. Minimal costumes, facial expression, voice modulation, and body language created a commanding solo show. 

The Panchatantra tale of friendship and betrayal, between a monkey on a fig tree on the banks of a river who befriended a crocodile, is a familiar one. The play begins as the monkey known as K O Rangan waits for his friend anxiously. The name links the tale of animals to that of humans. He recalls the happy days of their growing friendship on the bank of the river under the fig tree. As he waits he becomes anxious since he knows how ill his friend's wife is. He has gathered quite a lot of fruits which would surely cure her. Finally to his elation his friend comes. Together they cross the river, and the monkey enjoys the trip. Very soon he senses the betrayal as he is pulled down to the water. But clever as he is, he pretends how his friend is an adept in playing pranks. And the monkey finally learns the truth. Once again his calm resourceful mind finds the solution. The crocodile brings him back. Homecoming is a beautiful segment full of nostalgic memories. And the monkey climbs up and tells his friend that he is no fool. The play, allegorical in nature, gains human dimension.  

K O Rangan
Chakees Chankaram
'Chakees Chankaram' by Jayaprakash Kuloor is another experimental piece. Chakee and Chankaran are a girl and boy in their early teens growing up. Chakee comes from upper middle class and Chankaran is a subnormal street vendor. Here is a piece where you hear only dialogue, dialogue without action, reminding you of epic theater. Against a black backdrop the piece is enacted with the magic of nuanced language that exposes the hypocrisy, hollowness, and loneliness of the well-to do section of our society. Subtle humor marks the piece. Binoy and Vinod have done their best to keep the audience glued to their seats. 
'Idanilanngal, the Land in Between,' by Kala Padhasala, Arangottukara, deals with the crisis in farming. Farmlands being appropriated by the land mafia, a contemporary problem in Kerala, is the focus of the play. The devious ways of the mafia is pitted against the simplicity of the rural folk. The play evokes the ethos of an agrarian civilization that lives in harmony with nature. The amity between different religious groups and the humanism they practice is highlighted. 
'Claver Rani' by Edarikode Children's Theatre, directed by Parthasarathy and Arunlal, came as a welcome relief. A realistic presentation with side-splitting dialogues is truly an entertainment. The play gains a surprising dimension of the farcical. A Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer story, dramatized with ethnic flavors, it holds a mirror to life, from the satirical angle. Human fallibility set against social ills, is the theme enacted by a group of children in their early teens. 
Clavar Rani
Khasakkinde Ithihasangaliloode
'Khasakkinde Ithihasangaliloode' by Jisha and P C Harish is truly experimental. 

Enacted by Jisha, we meet the women in Khasak whose lives had been yoked by fate to Ravi, the central character of the famous novel. We meet these women, understand the human situation fraught with tragedy, and accept the tragic vision of the writer. The solo performance with a backdrop of humans as part of a mythical village rises to the level of poetic drama. 
'Raari..rii..rii..., roo..ru.. roo...' evokes a lullaby. The play by Rengachethana has a puppet show for its prologue. Against a stark stage, the play showcases childhood, growth, love, and its subsequent tryst, with shades of reality peppering it. Matrimony fraught with contemporary problems like male chauvinism, women's liberation, divorce is ultimately a sacrifice for the sake of children.  

Raari..rii..rii..., roo..ru.. roo...
Manmark Kuda
'Manmark Kuda' by advocate Vinod deals with the life work of V T Bhatathiripad. Popularly known as V T, he was a social reformer who saved Kerala Brahmins from the clutches of orthodoxy, opened a window for its youth who knew only Vedas, encouraged widow marriages, and liberated its women. His dream of a commune where people lived together was however thwarted by politicians. The production has cinematic touches interspersed with flashbacks.  
It is the efforts of groups like Rengachethana that gives a stimulus to drama at a time when the small screen rules our homes. Both the silver screen and the visual media have smothered drama. Yet, it is heartening to note that the theatre of love is the life-breath of many artists down the cultural history of humanity. "Rengachethana has sustained the little theatre-movement for the past three decades," said Dr Vayla Vasudevan Pillai, the former director of the School of Drama, Thrissur, in the valedictory function. 

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance journalist and a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com