Geetha Reddy & J Jha Offer Tea & Stories, at Home
by Daryanna Lancet
My initial feelings after seeing Ubuntu’s “Zoomed In” Zoombuntu reading of the “Mahabarata”—are soothed, inspired, and grateful. Almost immediately, the incredibly talented and dynamic J Jah offers us, the silent “Zoom” audience, ginger tea out of a thermos. Holding the flask up to the camera, I reply, “Thank you!
Thank you for offering me tea, even a virtual 2D cup. Thanks for taking the time to brew it, and brush up this beautiful, sassy, rich, ancient Indian epic.
Thank you for sharing your energy and artistry on this monumental gift of storytelling, tonight. this is what good acting does—always. After an hour of unforgettable stories, I feel grateful.
But, now in particular—conscious of my own struggles to focus on work—focusing on Jah makes us present in the moment, understanding that our challenges are minuscule compared to those in pain. Jha’s vibrant exuberance and commitment to living out the Indian stories feels like an immeasurable gift.
Moderator Michael Moran, Artistic Director of Ubuntu Theater Project (my former director in “House of the Spirits”) inspires me again. He brings artists and audiences together to create breathtaking, empathetic shows.
On-line, Moran has us all waving happily to each other. I found myself feeling a welcome participant at Zoombuntu, lucky to be part of a wonderful community for an hour.
One audience member’s sign reads “Texas,” and Michael laughs. He quips about a “silver lining” and “theaters expanding boundaries.”
Throughout the stories, Jha adapts with masterful ease to the tiny screen, while he jostles playfully with the camera.
Jha suddenly dives in close, nose near the screen to emphasize a point—it made me laugh. Then the actor leans— only to lean back out, with haughty raised eyebrow, resuming the speedy dialogue.
Post-performance, playwright Geetha Reddy and Jha relive their overwhelming project. They sifted and examined thousands of tales in the Mahabarata to come up with a concise script.
Together, they had to unearth the stories they want to tell and why. They ‘workshopped’ the script in a mere six months!
The long-time collaborators and friends reinforce each other, saying that ultimately, they wanted to “excavate” stories of female-identifying characters in their “Mahabharata.” They discovered stories that had “been there . . . but have been covered up.”
Memorably, when an audience member asks about challenges the duo faced in their process, looking full-on into the camera, Jha asserts: “Limitations are always rewarding.” A Eureka moment!
Limitations bring unexpected rewards—that sums up the brilliant solo show we see on-line.
I am so grateful to this company and these artists who continue to transform limitations to possibilities. They bring us bright hope and dynamic moments of connection.
“Mahabharata” by Geetha Reddy, directed by Michael Socrates Moran, by Ubuntu Theater Project, Oakland, streaming at Ubuntu. Info: ubuntutheaterproject.com
Cast: J Jha