Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Seraph for the Sanitarium

I went to see a play this evening. A Seraph For The Sanatarium at the Al-Hamra. Someone had recommended its prequel to me, Call Me Ishmael, which had played last week and so, after a few lucky phone calls, I managed to wrangle myself a pass and go see the performance.

The play is about a man with dissociative identity disorder, or split personality, and is related mainly through his interactions with his psychiatrist. The basic premise is that of the conflict between good evil and the main character assumes a Jeckyll and Hyde persona with Hyde (or Ishmael) dominating and manipulating those around him. It's well-written and while I have my reservations about the dramatization of psychiatric illness, I was nonetheless drawn into Ishmael’s conflict. The problem is that there is a trend both in literature and cinema to exaggerate the manifestations of psychiatric illness and create characters who, through their delusions and disability, are strangely empowered with exclusive access to secret, salvational truths. As John Dryden wrote, “There is a pleasure, sure, In being mad, which none but madmen know!”

Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Anyone who has known a friend or a loved one diagnosed with psychiatric illness knows how much they suffer and how excruciating are the private tortures they go through. There is nothing romantic about mental illness. It does not lend itself to lucid revelations. Only to sorrow and suffering. And if we think the mentally ill are privy to secrets denied to us because we are sane it is only a perversion of our own reality and our inability to understand it.

Thankfully, though, the play doesn’t extend itself too far into such distortions. The rhetoric is occasionally reductive but mostly the dialogue is sharp and well-performed. I haven’t seen very many plays but I think, unlike cinema, where subtle nuances and small gestures lend depth to a performance, in a theatrical performance a lot of the emphasis is on the voice and the actor’s ability to handle the language and make it come alive. In this both the lead actors did well. Mehreen Haq, who played the psychiatrist, did a competent job and, in spite of a few minor glitches (like lapsing into a Spanish nada even though she’s a Briton from Chester) gave a relevant performance. The star, however, was Omair Rana. He roared and chased all over the stage in a gripping portrayal, spectacularly creating both the malice and the angst that tormented his character. It was a mesmerizing act.

So, long story short, if you’re in Lahore and have a few hours to spare, try and see the play. As far as I know it’s by invite only but these are available at a number of venues. I personally would like to thank Punk Dervish who, even though he didn’t know me, very graciously extended me an invite. Also, if you do go to the play, be sure to visit the Depilex stall outside and donate generously. The organisation's set up a charity for women who've been assaulted by kerosene and acid burns. (The website's not much but the cause is too important to be ignored.)


The highlight of the evening for me, however, was the discovery that the lead actor was actually an old school-friend of mine. Omair and I used to be in the same class up until the third or fourth grade in the UAE and it was with a strange mixture of disbelief and delight with which I greeted the realization (“abay, yeh tau Omair hai!”) Of course it’s confirmed what I long suspected to be true, that my little hometown is actually a centre of excellence in disguise. Omair and I were in the same class as Yukta Mookhey, former Miss World, and look at us now. She’s a celebrity, he’s a thespian and I can rub my head and pat my tummy, sometimes both at the same time. What more proof could anyone want?


Blogger Punk Dervish said...

Here is another piece of discovery for you.I grew up in Alain too.But i went to pakistan Islamia Higher Secondary School.I wasn't fortunate enough to go to AAESS thoughn,and that too in the clas of Yukta mukhey.

Your review of the play is quite a detailed one.I wish you had seen the prequel.

BTW did you meet Omair after the play.If you want to meet him,then i can setup and setup a meeting between the two students of Alain best school.
Do get back to me about your life in alian and the tranisition to life in lahore.

12:53 PM  
Blogger karrvakarela said...

This just gets better and better! I completely didn't know you were from Al Ain. Wow! We have another Al Aini blogger here (paging Knicq! Knicq, are you there?) who was at the Pakistan Islamia Higher Secondary School. He was probably a few years senior to you but an Al Aini is an Alaini. And no, I don't think the AAESS was Al Ain's best school. That dubious distinction probably goes to Choueifat.

I did get to meet Omair after the play, though only for a few minutes. I think his fans were waiting to mob him. It would be great to meet you guys but I'm not sure how long I'm in town for and you're probably tied up with performances this week. But, tell you what, my email address is up on the site and you have my number. Let me know and we can get together for a meal.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Crazed Teacher said...

yeah the world is very small, omairs sister inlaw used to be with me in college. in the first part the psychaitrist was played by karin david. and yes they do tend to magnify these problems but that is why it is such a good play because of the exaggeration. omair rana is a very talented actor, no doubt about that. if u ever happen to be in pakiland again and a shahsharabeel play is on be sure to watch it, its the best kind there is in pakiland :)

4:23 AM  
Blogger Punk Dervish said...

What is blog url of that guy from my school?

1:01 PM  

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