December 8, 2015

Under the auspices of the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), the Young Directors Theatre Festival was organized to give NAPA alumni a platform to showcase their talents. I had the good fortune of watching four out of the six plays that were presented during the festival. The variety and range of performances and selected texts was truly a testament to the exacting standards to which NAPA has adhered. The four plays are reviewed here.

Time Stands Still

Play From L-R: Hammad Sartaj as Jamie, Ishtiaq Rasool as Richard, Sonia Ashraf as Sarah and Malika Zafar as Mandy.

Written by Donald Marguiles and set in Brooklyn,  Time Stands Still is the most contemporary play of the bunch and was delivered in English which is unusual for NAPA. That said, the cast did a tremendous job in addressing the themes of journalistic truth and ethics in the play. The protagonist Sarah (Sonia Ashraf) is a strong feminist character, by turns glib and scathing in her criticism but then revealing her fragility and vulnerability in the final devastating scene. As a war photographer,  she has learned to depict atrocities without any  show of emotion. But then there is the dilemma: shouldn’t she step in and try to change the reality? This is the question posed to her by Mandy (Malika Zafar), the young girlfriend of her editor Richard (Ishtiaq Rasool). Mandy is an effective foil to Sarah, the sunshine to the older woman’s gloomier world view. Feminist themes are strong in the play. While Sarah does not want to marry Jamie (Hammad Sartaj), her boyfriend of eight years, nor does she have any desire for children, Mandy is the exact opposite. Sarah is mocking of Mandy’s choices, but one can see her error in chiding the younger woman for wanting a conventional lifestyle.  A play heavy on conversation but able to convey a New York sensibility, Time Stands Still was overall the best play from the theatre festival. Special kudos to Ashraf for her incredible work as Sarah, who slowly reveals her fractured soul in a superb display of masterful acting.

Here Lies a Noble Man

Sunil Shankar as Iago Sunil Shankar as Iago

Here Lies a Noble Man employed a unique concept that was executed extremely well. Directed by Hammad Sartaj, the play was in fact a mash-up of key scenes from Macbeth and Othello. This treatment is unheard of but the news is just out that the Spymonkey Production Company is making a supercut play of all 74 scripted deaths in Shakespeare so maybe NAPA got there first. Translated into Urdu, no easy feat when it is Shakespeare, Sartaj’s direction kept the integrity of both plays intact. His direction of Desdemona’s acceptance of her death and Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness was pure poetry. Sunil Shankar as Iago was so deliciously vile ,it was a pleasure watching him deliver his lines. Extremely minimal with just the use of lighting and props, Here Lies a Noble Man proves that Shakespeare is indeed for all ages and languages. Interestingly, Sartaj chose to seat the audience on the stage itself where they were very close to the action. Kudos to the ladies (Sonia Ashraf, Shabana Hasan and Asiya Alam), because in a play dominated by men, they held their own. Special mention must be made for Meesam Naqvi as Macbeth and his animalistic energy in playing the part of the Thane of Cawdor.

Hatim Tai

Hammad Sartaj as the Prince of Egypt, Jinn and Thief Hammad Sartaj as the Prince of Egypt, Jinn and Thief

I will be honest. I knew nothing about Hatim Tai going into the play and had to Google it. That said, director Farhan Alam’s approach in creating a folksy, magical atmosphere achieved the desired effect of launching the playgoer on a magical journey. His use of rubber balls that had little lights in them was especially effective in creating an effect of spells through the smoke machine. Hatim Tai is the story of a Yemeni prince who has to go on a journey to find the answers to seven questions. Kashif Hussain as Hatim Tai was pleasant and lovable while Hammad Sartaj was terrifying as the belligerent Prince of Egypt, Jinn and the Thief. However, I think this was the weakest play in the series because these folk tales, with their outdated jokes and crass humor involving transgenders and women, do not translate well in the 21st century.


Kashif Hussain as Oswald and Muzaina Malik as Mrs. Alving Kashif Hussain as Oswald and Muzaina Malik as Mrs. Alving

Once again I had no idea what Ghosts was about except that it is a play by Henrik Ibsen. Mrs. Alving (Muzaina Malik) is trying to forget how her negligent husband did wrong by her. Her only joy is her son, Oswald (Kashif Hussain). but trouble is afoot when he finds himself falling for Ms. Engstrad, the illegitimate daughter of his father whom Mrs. Alving has taken in. Hussain’s decision to turn this play into a dance movement was perhaps the most artistic choice seen in the festival. His dancers created doors, balconies and hallways all through their own bodies. This minimalistic approach was sparse and stark and created the required feeling of doom that was about to befall the mother and son. The lighting and shadow work was excellent and bodies moved in one fluid movement.

Overall, The Young Directors’ Theatre Festival had something for everyone and was an excellent step in showcasing NAPA students’ exceptional talents.