Is language, color, hair style, build, sexual preference, eating habits enough for us to draw walls? Is the quest for supremacy borne out of ambition or an inherent fear of servitude? How long and under what conditions do we get over our xenophobia?
Nino D’Introna and Giacomo Ravicchio’s Robinson and Crusoe is the type of play that takes a simple situation and explodes into asking questions that are true and basic to human nature. When two soldiers from different lands find themselves wrecked atop a roof on an island, they do what seems only natural at first – fight for survival, be suspicious of the other and be on a constant vigil. Whoever loses track loses this Russian roulette.
They speak different languages, eat different things, listen to different kinds of music and sing different songs. Yet once they are done trying to fight each other and have come to terms with their physical parity they are left with little choice but to try and coexist. It’s then the human spirit prevails and demolishes all boundaries and identities that supposedly define us. They now understand each other, even though they continue to speak different languages.
The genius of the script lies in the fact that it is timeless; purely because it leverages on basic human themes that will exist forever – irrespective of how advanced and technologically savvy we get. That struck me as marvelous. One can’t help but observe the shrewdness with which the script thumps its relevance in a world where we are all too keen to outline identity and race. It doesn’t mock us, but reminds us of our inherent xenophobia.
The production, directed by veteran Gracias Devraj, offered a high-energy blast that was gripping from start to finish. The set was a roof top atop a blue sheet that sprawled across the stage symbolizing the ocean surrounding the island. As interesting as that was, we were then introduced to the two soldiers who were abandoned on the island, left only to fend off each other. The fight sequences were choreographed commendably and the actors’ effective execution saved it from the pitfall of looking amateurish and lame.
The points that stood out for me in this production were the brilliant use of music, lights and the fact that one of the characters speaks gibberish which by itself alienates the audience from the character and instills the same dread and fear that the English speaking character goes through. There are many moments in the play that make you applaud the script and direction. The scene where both characters get drunk and laugh and dance while it is raining bombs and bullets from the sky is just heart-warming, and an announcement of their victory over fear of war and death.
Having said that, the gibberish character seemed to have been played a tad one-dimensionally. He seemed high on energy all the time and one did not get a chance to have a look at the softer side of his personality. Doesn’t he miss his son whose picture he showed off so proudly? The tone seemed constant through the play almost making the character seem inhuman.
The other point that could have been done better was the build up of their friendship and the eventual parting. One does not feel for the parting more than the script permits one to. The execution falters somewhere in getting us to feel the friendship and the pain of the tragedy on discovering that their homes are in opposite directions.
But these are just minor glitches on a fantastic production that gives you a classic theatre experience. Go enjoy the fights, the laughter, the fear and the pain. In seventy crisp minutes, Robinson and Crusoe promises to take you through a roller coaster of emotions and even though the end is a tad saddening you applaud the playwrights for having taken the more logical route rather than orchestrating a happy ending. This one’s a winner all the way.