It is incredibly difficult to adapt a play out of its native language and culture. You have to inform the audience about thousands of years of customs and context in at most an hour and a half or, more often than not, much less. While the effort by Alberto Micheletti and his team to stage a performance of Rabindranath Tagore’s play Sacrifice was a bold and admirable choice, the production’s inconsistent tone and inability to convey its message effectively hampered the show from excelling.
Sacrifice is a play about the tension between religious and secular powers. Set against the background of a rich Hindu tradition, Sacrifice tells the story of a King, Govinda (Adam Ishaque), who bans the performance of Sacrifice after hearing the plea of a beggar. This puts him into conflict with Raghupati (Matthew Hui), the High Priest, who denounces it as sacrilege, and attempts to overthrow the King. This narrative set up is elaborated on by one Character, Jaising (Alberto Micheletti), the priest’s son, who is caught between his father and his own ethics. While this set up had potential to be incredible, it was, to a degree, lost in translation. The play was staged lightly, with only two major set pieces- an altar and a table. The altar, the show’s biggest setpiece, was bare, but 3 actresses, playing the Goddess Kali and her altar maids stood on it. This was an interesting idea, but the three goddesses did not stop moving throughout the production, which, during tenser scenes, distracted me from the action on stage.
The acting was often inconsistent, with much of the meaning of the story being lost as a result of under-pronounced character choices and awkward blocking. The wide majority of the scenes were two person conversations with characters moving only on entrance and
exit, making the stage look lifeless and empty. The performances lacked clarity in motivation – while we knew what characters wanted, their reasoning was often unclear. Fortunately, Sibet Partee’s performance as Aparna brought a healthy dose of real, personal emotion to the play, but even this was hampered the static blocking. Finally, a dance sequence placed in the middle of the play not only disrupted the narrative but felt entirely out of place within the aesthetic of the play as I saw it.
Beyond that, there is little to say. Costumes were good, visually distinctive, and one of the highlights of the show. Tech, though minimal, was acceptable, although the show struggled with Audio issues. Micheletti and his team were confronted with an incredibly tough task, and I respect them all the more for doing so. However, the performance I saw needed much more work to effectively convey not only the message of the play, but the context of the nation to which it was tied. Despite the costuming, and the names of the characters, the play as I saw it did not feel truly Indian, which ultimately does a disservice to the script.