In 1981, civil war ravaging Central America was at its brutal worst in El Salvador. Fought by left-wing coalition groups against the military run nation’s government, the 13-year-long war claimed the lives of close to 75,000 Salvadorians. One of them was a farmer in the countryside named Jesus. His story was documented by scriptwriters and circus clowns Peter Gould and Stephen Stearns in 1981. While the two performed the skit, their dream to turn it into a large-scale production was to take another 30 years — till Indian stage actor and theatre director Quasar Thakore Padamsee found the script gathering dust in a second-hand book store in Toronto in 2007. Immediately drawn to the story, he bought the script, hoping to turn it into a play. In 2013, the idea came to fruition in the form of A Peasant of El Salvador. “The script was with me for almost five years. I used it as research for other plays and pitched it to many directors to use, but nobody thought a story on El Salvador would appeal to Indian audiences. Finally, I decided to work on it,” says Padamsee, 48.
The actor feels that the story needed to be told because it is similar to the farmers’ situation in India. “I was this ignorant urban person until I did my homework on the script and realised that the situation of farmers is pitiful in India, and there is a huge urban-rural divide. The story is one of hope and big dreams, set in the hilly regions of El Salvador and is narrated by three characters,” he says.
The play will be staged this month in Mumbai and Kochi, after a hiatus of three years. “When we looked at bringing the play back we realised that India has changed so much in the past three years. The situation in India has become similar to that portrayed in the play — the militarisation of politics, force that the government imposes on citizens and the oppression of democratic rights such as freedom of speech, expression, assassination of writers and stifling of education institutions among others,” says Padamsee, adding, “The play speaks so much about outspoken people being harmed and the dynastic thirst for power, it felt apt to bring it back.”
Despite addressing serious issues, the play has elements of comedy. Predominantly in English, the 80-minute production also has dialogues in Spanish. “We have made a few tweaks to the previous script but the play is pretty much the same, though I think the audiences will relate to it much more now,” says Padamsee. His latest production titled Every Brilliant Thing, which focuses on mental health, premiered in March and will be staged on September 26 and 27.
A Peasant of El Salvador will be staged at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai, on September 26 and 27