Besides the usual requirements of a successful theatre production, the solo performance presents the actor with a specific set of challenges. How does he convey the nuances of an interaction when half of the dialogue isn’t heard? What does he do to convey the particulars of a story when the other characters aren’t seen? Or, if playing more than one character, what does he do to distinguish one from the other? The onus of engaging the audience falls solely on the actor and Khagendra Lamichhane carries it remarkably well in the revival of his solo one act play, Peeda Geet, at the Theatre Village in Lazimpat. His job is made all the more difficult by the fact the performance is on an empty set and uses no props but a walking stick. Lamichhane uses the stick, at various points, as a gun, a machete, and even the handle bar on a pushcart to make real the present and the past of the main character.
Written by Lamichhane himself, Peeda Geet is a portrayal of a man – Dal Bahadur – displaced by the armed conflict, having lost home and family, struggling to come to terms with his new situation in an unfamiliar city. The play is his recounting of his past to an unseen youth, perhaps the first person to take an interest in him in his new surroundings. Dal Bahadur initially rebuffs that interest but he slowly lowers his defenses to tell tales of a silver-tongued politician, Maoists, Royal Nepal Army cadres, and a close friend. The picture that emerges is one of heartache and anguish.
That Dal Bahadur endured so many instances of crippling tragedy somewhat stretches credulity. But it would be a mistake to seek strict plausibility here. The events he recounts are a composite of atrocities experienced by thousands of Nepalis at the hands of both the state and the rebels. Through Dal Bahadur’s hardships, the play asks some pointed questions about the conflict and the state of the nation. What is the actual, human cost of violence engendered by an abstract political ideology? Is the nation better off in terms of the lives its people live?
Dal Bahadur is a finely calibrated character. His exchange with the unseen youth evolves from initial diffidence to warmth. His reactions to his own recollections become more open and honest as he displays the full force of his emotions. If Lamichhane misses the mark, then it is perhaps in his portrayal of characters other than Dal Bahadur. He hits all the notes, in a technical sense, when changing characters – manipulating his posture, changing the cadence of his speech, and speaking in different Nepali accents. However, the transitions between characters aren’t always as crisp or clear. The content of a monologue is sometimes the only clue.
Lamichhane could have used a stronger directorial hand. He directs himself in the play and perhaps the doubling up of duties and divided attention resulted in some oversight. A more pointed lighting design with separate schemes for the characters would have helped with the character transitions. A quieter sound design wouldn’t have so overwhelmed the words, and a less literal sound design could have made for a stronger emotional impact. Lamichhane doesn’t use all the tools available to him as a director and this proves to be an unfortunate lapse, especially given that the play is performed on an empty set with no props or costume changes.
Peeda Geet deals expressly with the aftermath of a violent political struggle as endured by one man. For a nation in transition, reckoning with the kind of political society it wants to be, art can bring into sharp relief its past and ask pointed question about its future. Peeda Geet is Khagendra Lamichhane’s contribution to that conversation. And, despite its shortcomings, it comes highly recommended.
“Peeda Geet” is playing at the Theatre Village in Lazimpat until January 10, 2015. Shows at 5 pm daily (except Wednesdays). Additional Matinee show on Saturdays at 1 pm. Running Time: 40 mins.