Kathmandu: Sometimes the most powerful viewing experience is the one without a concrete theme but is emotive enough to make you feel an amalgam of emotions. Theater as an art form is at its best when it is unrestricted, free-flowing, and impacts you with sensation more than with words.
Watching it for the first time, it is hard to pinpoint the central idea of “Aiya! Maya”, a play directed and written by Sudam Ck. The audiences unfamiliar with experimental concepts in the arts will definitely be flabbergasted watching it. The play hints from the get-go that it is not like anything else that’s out there and is an experience more so than a narrative.
“Aiya! Maya” makes use of visuals, motifs, music, and dance to create an otherworldly atmosphere. Each part of the play is so different from the next that it’s hard to know what to anticipate.
Setting the scene
A bell rings to mark the beginning of the play. While the audience fills in and decides on where to sit, four silhouettes are out and about on the stage, warming up and dancing around. Sitting in the small cozy theater with warm yellow light shining on our faces, the audiences watch as the silhouettes let out their feelings through gestures. Each performer’s movement differs, but it fits together as if they’re all acutely aware of each other.
The tabla and guitar add a soft pleasing ambiance to the whole play. A melodic voice rings out, and the performers start harmonizing in beautiful cohesion. The lights point to the stage, making the performers look like they’re illuminated from within.
That’s how the play starts out, and from then on it’s a concord of distinct accounts, monologues, elaborate dance scenes, intimate vulnerable moments as well as theatrical visual and auditory effects.
Pushing the boundaries
The play utilizes the versatility and dexterity of the performers to the fullest. The chemistry between the cast composed of Akash Nepali, Ayan Khadka, Pavitra Rai, Sarita Kathayat, Mukti, and Shishir Shivakoti was intense and palpable, and they all got their moments to shine. The vocal range and the flexibility of the four lead performers consisting of Akash Nepali, Ayan Khadka, Pavitra Rai, and Sarita Kathayat were impressively showcased.
In this age of social media, it is refreshing to see a fresh, original take on theater by the younger generation.
More awe-inspiring was the stunning level of comfort that the performers had with each other. It felt like a very intimate affair that the audience was being allowed to witness. At some points, it even felt a little intrusive to be witnessing such vulnerability from the cast.
The play didn’t just make full use of its talented ensemble; it also used visual cues like flashing lights, blinding darkness, writhing smoke, atmospheric music, repetitive motifs (like the color red, which likely represented subtle repressed rage) and so on.
The little amount of dialogue that was present in the play was full of layers that brought out a mood of introspection. Even the invigorated yelling, screaming, confused and despaired sounds produced by the performers felt like it had a deeper significance.
Too much or too little
There were a lot of premises that were touched on in the play, but were not further delved into. Issues on political dynamics, caste discrimination, societal condemnation, doomed love, heartbreak and much more were portrayed but only as fragments. Since the play is supposed to be an observation of our society, it doesn’t fully invest itself in any of the subject matter flashing by.
However, this isn’t the first abstract concept explored by writer and director Sudam Ck. “Paanch”, which was conceptualized by Ck, was also an experimental endeavor without a tangible story. It was widely praised for its innovative approach to theatrical presentation.
Nevertheless, the lack of cohesiveness can be a little jarring to some theater lovers who are used to a concrete flow of events. It’s difficult to decide whether the play has too much or too little going on. By the end of the viewing experience, it can be tough to conclude what exactly you’re feeling. The play is quite an onslaught to the senses.
A new direction for Nepali theater
The theater community has had to continuously adjust to the evolving media world and the changing entertainment landscape. In this age of social media, it is refreshing to see a fresh, original take on theater by the younger generation.
The theater community is continually growing with renewed interest from more and more people. At a time when most people are chronically online and detached from reality, it is essential to bring more explorative and pioneering concepts in the creative field. Seeing a play like “Aiya! Maya” being appreciated despite its startling distinctness is quite encouraging.
The play, which has been staged since July 22, will be staged every day except Monday and Tuesday at 5:30 pm with an additional show on Saturday at 2 pm.