Geetha Reddy’s Solo Show Illuminates Classic Tales
by Tanvi Agrawal
Playwright Geetha Reddy takes the vast, ancient Indian epic poem, the “Mahabharata” and transforms it into an impressive one-person show. Inimitable J Jha, the only performer, impressively rattles through story after story—trying to fit thousands of years into a couple of hours. It is a fresh take on old stories that everyone can appreciate.
Reddy and Jha seduce us into the magnificent, familiar stories, making the human element personal to us. We get to watch J perform larger than life characters who undergo hurt, happiness, and surprises. They make the stories feel more familiar than the original allegories.
In black leather jacket and flowing red skirt, J Jha Bewitches us, effortlessly. With a modern, feminist angle, our Storyteller tells us of Princess Draupadi, who is “gambled” away by her foolish husband to dishonorable men. They try to take advantage of her and tug on her sari to unravel it. Reddy and Jha’s contemporary retelling of the story hits with urgency and emphasis, expanding our empathy for the character.
Our brave Storyteller then embodies Princess Draupadi praying to Lord Krishna, a supreme God. Draupadi twirls in circles, building momentum until two rolls of golden silk unravel from the ceiling. Jha grabs them, and we behold the breathtaking sight of cloth swirling around the Storyteller, like a golden tornado. The enchanting effect evokes the reversal of time, the rewrapping of Draupadi’s sari, and the restoration of her dignity. We see Draupadi more deeply than ever.
The Storyteller transports us to the world of Kings and Warriors. They treat us like familiars friend, sitting in an empty seat next to us, and making ‘improvised’ remarks. They demolish the “fourth wall,” pulling us headfirst into the magical tales.
The Storyteller jokingly rebukes us for what we think we know about the “Mahabharata.” Captivated, we all love Arjuna, the warrior Prince, but Storyteller cheekily claims that he, too, has four wives in secret.
Jha and Reddy make the classic Indian epic new and fresh. Jha accomplishes the impossible by becoming vast armies, in himself. “Mahabharata” offers intelligent writing, superb acting, and classic Indian stories—a unique and enchanting solo show.
“Mahabharata” by Geetha Reddy, directed by Michael Socrates Moran, by Ubuntu Theater Project, Oakland, through Sunday, December 8, 2019. Info: ubuntutheaterproject
Cast: J Jha