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A bereaved father, a hypnotist who loses his power – Atul Kumar explores grief through a play

An Oak Tree will open at The Box in Pune on March 6 and 7. One of the features of the play is that the role of the father will be played by a member of the audience or a guest actor.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Pune |
Updated: March 5, 2021 6:34:44 pm
Atul Kumar (Photo courtesy: Atul Kumar)

A man loses his daughter in a car accident, after which nothing in his life is the same. Leading theatre practitioner Atul Kumar has created a solo show, titled An Oak Tree, inspired by the dominant themes of the pandemic — death, loss and grieving.

An Oak Tree will open at The Box in Pune on March 6 and 7. One of the features of the play is that the role of the father will be played by a member of the audience or a guest actor. They will walk to the stage without having seen or read a word of the play — strangers to what is going to unfold.

“An Oak Tree is a bold and absurdly comic new play about loss, suggestion and the power of the mind. It contains a dazzling balance of gripping story, rich theatricality and shocking humour,” says Kumar.

“These are moving times. During the lockdown, the way people reflected internally made them so much more empathetic and tolerant towards others as well as towards themselves. What I have arrived at, after permeating through those experiences, is a strange relationship with loss, death and grief,” he adds.

The bereaved father feels as if he’s in a play – but doesn’t know the words or the movements. The man who was driving the car that killed his daughter is a stage hypnotist and, since the accident, he’s lost the power of suggestion. The hypnotist will be played by Kumar.

“His act is a disaster. For him, everything now is exactly what it is. For the first time since the accident, these two men meet. They meet when the father volunteers for the hypnotist’s act,” says Kumar.

An Oak Tree is written by Tim Crouch, an experimental theatre maker from the UK.

After live performances were allowed in Maharashtra, Kumar had presented Where Does All This Wood Come From, at his group The Company Theatre’s space in Kamshet. It also developed from an effort to find human experiences not in something that is real and realistic but in every other realm that exists in space and time.

“I see myself reacting to death and loss in an extremely detached way and, thereby, a beautiful way. I feel we have come to terms with who we are with each other and ourselves in this larger cosmic realm. If there is a loss, pain or suffering and even death, there is an immediate human reaction and I think we need to go through it and we did, and we are still going through it, not in a literal sense but existentially,” he adds.

In An Oak Tree, the father starts imagining that the child has cloned into many different things, such as lines and spaces, air and trees like the oak tree.

The piece is also a reflection of Kumar’s introspections in the past few months. Though he is no stranger to the solo show, Kumar has captured the imagination is the past few years as a director of large productions with multiple performers, chief among which is Piya Behrupiya, winner of the prestigious Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards. What brings him back to acting and solos?

“I have been thinking about creating much more of my own work, such as working on myself and going deeper into what I can do as a performer at the age of 52. I am constantly looking for challenges and newer ways of looking at performing arts, theatre and literature and other subjects linked to the theatre arts,” he says.

“A solo can be very lonely because theatre is a community art form. Now, I am alone. That is challenging and exciting at the same time,” he adds. On the other hand, there is a digital theatre piece that has been a year in the making and is nearing its final stage.

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Piya Behrupiya, too, is returning with shows at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai from March 11. The decision to stage this play, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London, was a response to the calls that Kumar has been receiving regarding it.

“Piya Behrupiya brings joys and happiness, which people are really waiting to experience. The participants of the play haven’t seen each other for a year, so it is a high for all of us. Piya Behrupiya always brings money as well, with which we can cross-fund experimental plays such as An Oak Tree,” he adds.

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