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Home Reviews A Double Dose of “Play Within A Play” by the Atlanta Theater Workshop

A Double Dose of “Play Within A Play” by the Atlanta Theater Workshop

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::Abir Thakurta::


As Bengalis yearning for a glimpse of the evergreen homeland left behind, watching a Bangla play in Atlanta is like reconnecting with our cultural ethos; watching two Bangla One-Act plays in one show is pure cultural sublimation. So when Atlanta Theater Workshop ( presented two One-Act Bengali plays by the noted playwright, Bimal Bandyopadhyay on Saturday, April 2, 2011 – the entire community of theatre lovers could not hold back and descended at the Red Clay Theatre in Duluth.

As if the mere staging of two one-act plays was not enough for us connoisseurs, director Dr. Raktim Sen and the Atlanta Theater Workshop had to top it off by selecting “a play within a play” as a literary theatrical device. If one is not aware of how this device is used, the inner plays are told either simply to entertain or more usually to act as an example to the other characters. In either case the inner play often has symbolic and psychological significance for the characters in the outer play. There is often some parallel between the two plays, and the fiction of the inner play is used to reveal the truth in the outer play. And no one has done it better than playwright, Bimal Bandyopadhyay in Ekti Obastob Galpo and Pashupati Opera.

Through an unusual incident at the gallows in a jail, Ekti Obastob Galpo (An Implausible Story) puts forward a powerful and humorous comedy with a dramatic twist at the end, giving a poignant social message. Ka Mondal (Joy Bhattacharya), a convict who is being executed for killing his wife, does not die, rather loses his consciousness. To revive him, so that the execution can be performed, the jailer (Arunava Saha) and the other attendants decide to re-enact the incident for which Ka Mondal has been sentenced to death. And there starts our ‘play within a play’.

Dr. Sen's treatment of the 'play within a play' is quite refreshing and enlivening. From the farcical efforts to resuscitate Ka Mondal by the jailer and his posse to the characterization of each of the attendants as they re-enact their dual characters, Dr. Sen allows the cast to improvise and they shine. There is Chandreyi, the OBGYN (Moumita Roy), who is worried about the convict’s revival and her work commitments. There is Bachaspati, the government priest (Partha Mukherjee Sr.) who wants to ensure that the holy rites are performed appropriately. There is a quintessential police officer (Subrato Mukherjee) who wants to ensure that the laws are interpreted and obeyed appropriately. There is Kamal, the sub-inspector (Sudeep Das), who is trying to appease the jailor and come up with solutions. And there is Ram Singh, the constable (Shankar Sengupta) who could care less but is all about pleasing his superiors, even if it means having to immerse into his role of a baby boy to the point of driving the jailor mad (and providing the audience with comic relief).


After regaining consciousness, Ka Mandol in a soliloquy narrates that he did not kill his wife; rather it had been an accident. Joy Bhattacharya gives a brilliant performance, in particular during the soliloquy. Throughout the play, Arunava Saha as the moronic jailer trying to demonstrate his ability to control the situation yet consistently running out of ideas, performs admirably on stage. One particular scene, where he thinks he has accidentally killed the priest demonstrates Arunava’s mastery of the character. Dr. Sen's treatment of diverse aesthetic sentiments as per the demands of the script is impressive. He takes a dig at sensationalism in mainstream Indian media by using a news anchor (Mou Dutta) and a cameraman (Achintya Dey) to describe the narrative around the capital punishment. He demonstrates his usual mastery of the production technicalities in his lighting and sound effects to portray the hanging at the gallows.

While the first one-act play utilized a particularly hostile set in order to universalize the suffering depicted throughout the act, the second play was all about using lighting treatments to depict a theatre district in Bengal.

Pashupati Opera is a story of Pashupati (Arunava Saha) who along with some of his office colleagues - Shankar (Achintya Dey), Sourav (Joy Bhattacharya) and Amal (Shankar Sengupta), rehearse plays every day in the evening after work. Pashupati's wife Alaka (Madhumita Bhattacharya) has lost her mental balance after losing her son, Ananda in a bus accident. As we learn, Ananda was a theater actor. Alaka, tries to immerse herself in acting in an attempt to see why her son loved theater so much. Throughout the play the emotions that surround Alaka is brought out remarkably by Madhumita. In the final moments of the play, Pashupati reveals the background of "The Pashupati Opera" and its cast to Debarati (Mou Dutta), who was Ananda's Fiancée.

The entire production team throughout both acts manages to captivate the audience and keep them riveted to their seats. Through some dynamic acting, well-produced mood lighting, well-adapted scripts, haunting scores and sound effects, the team takes the audience through a variety of emotions in two short hours; from vacant to pensive, to peals of laughter, to surprise, to drama, to melancholy and finally to being distraught at the hypocritical society where the weak and innocent suffer injustice. It was entertaining, it was enlightening; alas it was ephemeral. We hope the ATW group continues to produce more enthralling plays that reveal the best of our Bangla art and theatre. Maybe even a Hindi play to capture a bigger audience in the future? 


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