Sunday, September 30, 2018

“A Small History” is Sweet and Unexpected

The cast of A Small History of Amal, Age 7 (Pankaj Luthra)
A Small History of Amal, Age 7
Forward Flux Productions and Pratidhwani
(at West of Lenin)
Through October 6, 2018

Pratidhwani combines forces with Forward Flux Productions to present a “small” play, simply presented with few set pieces, many sound effects made directly by the actors, about a small seven year old Indian boy. It’s a production that enchants and delights in the small moments of life. A Small History of Amal, Age 7 by Lindsay Joelle, is exactly what the title says it is.

We’re introduced to Amal (Nabilah S. Ahmed), who is sick, though we don’t know why. His uncle has to leave him in the hospital to go to work. Uncle (Gurvinder Pal Singh) is worried about his nephew, and feels badly leaving, because Amal’s mother and father are both dead and Uncle is all Amal has. But Uncle works on trains and must keep working.

We get to know Amal as he interacts with his doctor (Abhijet Rane),  nurse (Meenakshi Rishi), the hospital aide (Jay Athalye) and meets a small girl, Suda (Varsha Raghavan), who has to periodically visit the hospital for monitoring. The cast also becomes train passengers and siblings of Suda, and helps create the playful atmosphere of discovery that Amal infuses his world with.

Much of the play is light and delightful. While it’s not completely a child-oriented play, it feels like children would entirely accept and enter this world and this explorer-mentality of Amal. The play asks the audience to look at the world in that child-like wonder, as well.

Later, it may surprise you how invested you become to the life of this small boy, as the play turns darker and the explosion of terrorism on Uncle’s trains takes a toll. Then, the play becomes a vehicle of exploring our connection to violence when the violence is far away in both physical miles and time.

The play is set in 2006, on the day a train was bombed in Mumbai, India. The playwright said in an interview, “When my friend was living in Mumbai, she was introduced to Rabindranath Tagore’s century-old short play Dak Ghar (The Post Office), about a sick child with the heart of an explorer, who interacts with the people in his village as they pass by his bedroom window. As a result, my Amal shares many … symptoms, as well as … optimism, intellectual curiosity, and inner strength.”

The cast, directed by Samip Raval, does a fine job of creating the atmosphere of storytelling. No matter their age, they throw themselves into young characters or into creating vocalisms of rain or wind. Nothing is too silly to perform.

Ahmed brings her considerable talents to bear as Amal. She is able to disappear as a woman and a grown up into this seven year old. Her wide-eyed questioning of the world and the sense of folding new information into a revised understanding is pitch perfect.

Jordan Gerow is credited with set design, and uses mobile hospital beds and metal and sheet covered hospital privacy barriers to set various hospital locations. The 3/4 surround of the seating makes the production feel like a camp-fire story and like we’re all imagining together.

This is a sweet and unexpected play that provides a lot of different aspects to react to. In an unassuming way, subject matter as large as Life and Death becomes accessible to everyone.

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