Told in the Bengali language of northeastern India, this excerpt from Hindu epic poem Mahabharata focuses on the futility of war and the failings of absolute political power. Charismatic king Duryodhana (Ajoy Ghosh) now mortally wounded has led his side to near extinction. Kritavarna (Sakti Scengupta) incites fearless warrior Ashvatthama (Golam Sarwar Harun) to make one final foray to slay the five brothers of the enemy camp. Against the wishes of his wise Brahmin uncle Kripacharya (Mahmood Hoshen Dulu), Ashvatthama does so. But his booty turns out to be five kids' heads, a deed for which the Hindu gods will condemn him to wanderthe earth for centuries without rest. And what was the original reason for fighting? It was only a personal vendetta, all too common in the annals of war. But Manoj Mitra's text has another parallel: fomenter Kritavarna neatly slips out of the range of divine vengeance. Much like Greek tragedy, most of the action occurs offstage, but masterfully intense performances by Harun and Dulu create extended riveting sections. Director Scengupta has unfortunately miscast himself. Nervous and wiry onstage, his talents are better suitedto comedy and comic foils, rather different from his character. When not actively involved in his scenes, he distractingly pours cup after cup of water for himself and the other actors. Kudos to the company, Epic Actors' Workshop, for bringing another great (and timely) South Asian story to life at Fringe. At ConnellyTheater. 1 hour, 30 minutes. Review by Lipfert. ---Publication:
The New York Sun; Date: Aug 20, 2004; Section: Arts & Letters; Page: 16 THE 2004 NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL FRINGE FESTIVAL "ASHVATTHAMA"THE CONNELLY THEATERIt is darkly ironic that the sacred Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, the “Divine Song of God,” might be best known in the West for furnishing Robert Oppenheimer with his famous response to the first atomic weapon test at LosAlamos: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” The Bhagavad Gita itself is just part of the Mahabharata, “the Great Book of India,” which details the events and aftermath of a devastating war. Epic Actor’s Workshop and playwright Manoj Mitra have taken a single episode from this dauntingly vast work — it’s three times the length of the Bible — and dramatized it. “Ashvatthama” concerns a horrific act of revengetaken by a handful of warriors from the defeated army.The play is performed in Bengali, with English supertitles (by Titus Raha) projected onto the now white, now blood-red moon low in the sky of Ashok Vanjari’s simple set.The staging is deliberately flat, and the acting earnest. Sakti Sengupta (who also directed) plays the feckless Kritavarma,whose despair at defeat makes him partner to the ruthless act of revenge.The venerable Mahmood Dulu is Kripacharya, the elder whose counsels for peace go unheeded. The fiercely featured Golam Sarwar Harun plays the roaring title role, a kind of combined Othello/Iago. He feels impelled to avenge his ambushed and dying king (a largely silent part played by Ajoy (Ghosh), yet he resents the king for failing to promote him to general.This frustration helps shape his rage into a diabolical plan: to slaughter the victorious army’s generals as they sleep. In the panic and darkness of the raid, however, Ashvatthama mistakenly beheads only their servants and infant children. Fearing retribution, he readies “the ultimate weapon,” which will destroy the body and spirit of all life on earth. This prompts the arrival of the great god Arjuna, armed with his own weapon of prodigious destruction. They hurl them simultaneously, with unexpected consequences.One could ask for more variety and pace in the staging, and certainly more finesse in the technical execution of light and sound. But Mr. Sengupta and Mr. Mitra seem determined to keep anything slick from getting in theway of the text: no poetry but the old words, the stark and terrible arguments men continue to make to justify atrocity. With a refreshing and admirable grace, this frees us to draw any parallels to current world events, if we will. May I suggest a command performance at the Republican National Convention?— T. Ryder Smith, actor Copyright 2002-2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC.