Water Lilies – My First Experience of Theatre

1 06 2008

Many a times, our life is filled with chance encounters with engaging strangers who leave lasting impressions or thought provoking reflections as they touch our lives in accident. Ever wondered what binds those conversations together? What compels us to connect to those strangers from diverse backgrounds and worlds and what propels us to spill our deep experiences of life which we seldom share with those with whom we spend our life with?

The play ‘Water Lilies’ is filled with a set of random sparkling conversations between people from diverse backgrounds who meet in random at public places.. Staged as a trilogy of three short plays: Fawn Lilies, Water Lilies and Black Lilies, this play explores the strange tranquility that envelops us as we strike kinship with the world around us. In these short plays, a man and a woman from diverse backgrounds and radically different outlook that springs from their distinct racial origins share their world of experiences and differences only to discover a strange affinity through common values, leaving each other with a fresh set of perspectives and a new meaning behind things. What enriching reflection can happen over a harmless conversation in thirty minutes with an absolute stranger from the other part of the world? One has to watch this play to believe it.

Fawn Lilies: Set in a Park in Columbus, Ohio, a bird-watching dietitian from Vijayawada, whose boyfriend decides to give up love for war, meets a gay vagabond with a cynical feel for causes. The characterization of the female protagonist ‘Sunandha Ragunathan’ do sound like a bundle of contradictions for coming from the same place, it was a little hard for me to imagine “a bird-watching dietitian from Vijayawada”, sprouting a tattoo on her forearm and a dainty umbrella for accessory. Yet, what makes the play beautiful was the lilting quality of the conversations that shimmer with a soulful introspection. The gay wanderer shares his experiences of being a part of tree sitting movement while pondering on his vagabond nature. Trying to cope with the loss of her boy friend and childhood sweetheart, she finds comfort in taking up her boyfriend’s passion for birds, trying to hold on to those lost memories. As they spill these little details of their life and collect those life long reflections in an enticing conversation, the play ends with a poem called ‘Fawn-Lilies’ by Ashton Smith that celebrates a sense of positivity in the bloom of fawn lilies that sprang from a swamp.

Fawn-Lilies By Clark Ashton Smith

White lilies frail and cold,
With hearts of elfin gold;
Briefer than all brief things your hidden bloom,
Beneath the sombre grove –
Mournful, and dear, and fair as hapless love,
Foreknowing all the nearness of its doom.

White lilies cool and shy,
Delicously ye die,
Before the vesper dews of any morrow!
But now, on windless air,
Your perfume lies, fresh as a woman’s hair,
And faint as myrrh the dreams of noon would borrow.

White lilies cold and wan
As hands of swooming love –
As the fair throat whereon
My kisses clomb, to find her mouth’s lit flame! –
Ye die, and cannot say
Who passed beneath the April pines today;
And you alone have heard our hidden love,
And known her flow’r-soft name.

Water Lilies: Dismissing Claude Monet as a painter of pretty flowers, a Texan investment banker becomes curious about a Srilankan woman’s passion for Monet’s lilyscapes at Monet Exhibition, Houston Museum. When V.Balakrishnan as a Texan Banker subtly mocks Monnet’s landscapes, Swarnamalya as a sari-clad Srilankan woman etches a perfect picture of serene beauty and magnificent dignity, as she passionately highlights the subtle nuances of Monnet’s paintings that elevate art beyond colors and reach out to the vision of the painter. The play ends with the Banker musing on the last words of the poem by Ted Hughes, that highlights the serene tranquility of the water lilies despite of the horrors that surround their roots.

To Paint A Lily Flower By Ted Hughes

Ignorant of age as of hour—
Now paint the long-necked lily-flower

Which, deep in both worlds, can be still
As a painting, trembling hardly at all

Though the dragonfly alight,
Whatever horror nudge her root

Black Lilies: Set in Washington Dulles Airport, two days after the 9/11 tragedy, a young school teacher from Tamil Nadu, on her first foreign trip, strikes a conversation with a Serbo-Hungarian novelist, who is on his way to meet his German translator in Frankfurt. Partly amused and partly irritated by her diffidence and irrational fear about everything from thunder to travel, the novelist shares a piece of his dark stories, only to discover faith and belief in her shy and affirmative convictions. Dhritiman Chaterji embodies the nobel award novelist with beautifully packed wit, passion, and poignant reflection in fluid and carefree ease. He makes you think, laugh and ache as he recites his story and comments on her beliefs. Parteeksha, as the Tamil school teacher matches the novelist with her shy and confident delivery of her convictions and opinions which contrast sharply with the novelist’s ideology. As they share their world of differences, they collectively discover hope, joy, light and happiness that leads the discussion from darkness to light.

Gowri Ramnarayan creates magical moments of introspection by her careful choice of words and her eminent direction. She should be credited for judiciously blending poetry, verse and paintings to enhance the swaying moods of the conversations. Anil Srinivasan with his mellifluous piano performance blends wonderfully into the play, linking the stories and ephemeral thoughts together with his transient and haunting music. His dulcet tunes match the poignant thought process that runs behind those conversations and subtly elevate the moods of the protagonists.

I marveled at the competence of the cast that enlivened the theatre and made those moments eternal in my memories. The play did leave me with moments of nostalgia of all those soulful chance encounters I had with engaging people, some who stayed on to be friends for life, while some dropped in to offer life long reflections in those fleeting moments.