Unlike most of the internationals, I stayed in a guest house on campus
and across the hall from me, occupying the same size room that I had to
myself, were 10 members of a traditional folk group from Maharashtra
who were there to perform the ten incarnations of Krishna-it's hard for
me to keep all the Indian gods straight but I think Krishna is also
Above and Below:
Members of the Traditional Folk Theater of Maharashtra performing the
ten incarnations of Krishna based on a novel by Mahashwetan Devi
Shibani, offered to take Gail Nyoka of Toronto and me
around Mumbai. After we checked out the aptly named FabIndia and
Ghandi's cooperative, Khadi, with its beautiful hand woven silks and
cottons and wonderfully smelling skin products-all for the benefit of
the villagers who make the products, we drove very far north (in the
1600's Mumbai was a string of islands that have since been consolidated
with land fills and bridges) where all the Bollywood and TV studios
Shibani's daughter, Smriti Irani, is one of Indian
TV's top stars, though we didn't learn this until after we had visited
her on the set. They were shooting her current serial, Maniben.com,
when we arrived- a family comedy about a village woman who comes to the
city but tries to keep her traditional ways. Left to Right: Lia Gladstone; the "Messenger of Death"; Gail Nyoka (of Toronto, Canada); Smriti; Shibani. On the set of one of Mumbai's most popular TV serials.
The show was adapted from a play that Smriti starred in. Before this,
Smriti was a hit in her previous serial that was especially popular in
Afghanistan, so popular in fact that one night while an Afghan family
was glued to the set, they were robbed and the thieves wrote in big
letters on the walls around the house, THANK YOU, SMRITI!" When Smriti
is done shooting she heads to the theater where's she's appearing in a
new play that she has also produced.
My play Children of the Far Far Away
is about an American woman who travels to Micronesia to look for babies for an adoption agency.
The US has a compact with Micronesia that allows for US military bases and bomb testing- remember Reagan's Star Wars.
In exchange, Micronesians get a little money that wipes out their subsistence life-style and are free to travel to the US without a passport.
This is the attraction for adoption agencies. It means an end run around the INS. My mentor when I wrote it, called it "Frontline" on stage. It's debut in the Solo Mio Festival in San Francisco.
The conference asked me to stage "Children" in Mumbai. The cast is a mix of international delegates and University of Mumbai Theater students. One morning I'm walking outside the University when this young pistol of a girl approaches me, just being friendly, I think, to a stranger.
When I get back, there she is, Ripali, with the other theater students, and I instantly cast her as the pregnant Lina. Niru didn't have to work hard to portray the seductive taxi driver. Indian-American actor/playwright Ameera as Kada, the adoption worker, says after he comes on to her: "That smile . . I almost say yes. " She looks at Niru and his drop dead gorgeous smile lights up the room; the 5th wall is broken, everyone in the audience is seduced.
Nilam wears a white sari as beleagured Dr. Rita- "four Caesarians in one day and we dont have water for days."
In the discussion that follows, an Indian woman denounces the play for presenting Lina as a victim. My Indian friend Shibani whispers to me, "You always know it's good when someone in the audience gets angry." More photos by Lia >You can also read a report about Lia in DNA INDIA (the link goes to an external site) Read the report