Tuesday, March 9, 2010

“Arranged Marriage” returns to STC

Courtesy photo

Years ago the Sacramento Theatre Company produced “Arranged Marriage,” based on a story by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It was performed in the modest space now known as “The Pollock Stage” at the Wells Fargo complex in the heart of Sacramento. The new version is a musical—with colorful costumes, plus song and dance, all native to India—adapted and directed by Peggy Shannon, STC’s artistic director.

We get superb performances by Roshni Shukla, playing Sumita, an Indian girl who goes to California to be with her “arranged” husband, and by Katherine Cristina Miller, mainly as the goddess Parvati, who sees marriage as destiny. Warren leads an ensemble of seven polished dancers, mostly cast from STC’s Young Professionals Conservatory. Jim Sarb provides Indian male voices. The result projects authenticity to the core.

The colorful costumes by Gail Russell, coupled with the authentic choreography by Tyler Russell Warren and the poetry by Rabindranath Tagore, translated from the Bengali, augment an exciting taste of the arts of India.

The main weakness of the production seems to come from Divakaruni’s lack of experience as playwright. Unless you follow revolutionaries like Bertolt Brecht, you stick to Aristotle’s definition of drama as “an imitation of an action,” not an imitation of someone talking about an action. In “Arranged Marriage” two of the main actions are Sumita’s wedding and a murder at her husband’s convenience store, neither of which we see.

I brought this puzzle to Shannon, who explained that Divakaruni had demanded that such events be brought to us by report from Sumita. Even if drama is subdued, the play still offers us our money’s worth in color, authenticity, and the artistry of everyone we see and hear.

And what’s missing from view is compensated by lines inspired (probably) by Tagore. Late in the play, crushed by catastrophe, Sumita declares, “My unlived life gathered itself into a scream.”

Before concluding, I feel obliged to reveal my own connections with Divakaruni. In the eighties, as chair of the English Department at Contra Costa College, I helped to hire her as a teacher. We maintained a cordial relationship and she later moved on to a better job. She later left teaching, I learned, as she pursued a successful writing career. We had a friendly meeting during the first production of her story at STC.

“Arranged Marriage” runs through March 28 on the Mainstage at the Wells Fargo Complex, 1419 H Street. Performances are Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Thursday at 12:30 and 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15-$46. There’s no intermission. Call the box office at (916) 443-6722.


Anonymous said...

STC production of Arranged Marriage was an absolute joy - choreography and dancing stellar, as well as quality of acting performances

Anonymous said...

I agree, the production was superb and the choreography amazing. Regarding the article, I didn't hear the poem in Bengali - it was actually read in Hindi then translated into English. Further still it was refreshing how we say everything through Sumitra's eyes. It was more impactful than if we would have seen the husband, or the gore.