Insecure at the airport, in times of Trump

AI-by-Naatak_1353SP Insecure at the airport is not something anyone should feel, except if they were witnessing the 56th flight of imagination from Naatak “airlines”, at Cubberly “terminal” in Palo Alto on a recent weekend. The audience was duly welcomed aboard by a well-dressed flight attendant promising a smooth ride and some turbulence for dramatic effects; the cell phones were asked to be turned off and Samsung Galaxy phones to be left behind! Once the seat belts were fastened, the lights dimmed and the play, “Airport Insecurity” took off!1

As with most Naatak plays, the props and set design really set the tone, and the movements around them to create the spatial identities did not disappoint. From a group of five corporate travelers, one loses his passport, phone and wallet at Frankfurt airport, and is thus left without an identity. He is forced to navigate the bureaucratic world straddling three countries with their own idiosyncratic officials; wait 48 hours in a “no man’s land” and resolve his “situation” while learning about the dire medical condition of his pregnant wife and unborn child.

AAI-by-NAATAK-1865-KAn upbeat, nonchalant traveler, Vijay (Varun Dua) remains convinced that his plight is short-lived, and he will be at his conference in Barcelona in no time, and thence back in the U.S in time for the birth of his first child. Asked to jump through official hoops, resort to endless form filling, calling in favors, and, in general, relying on the kindness of strangers to get him through his ordeal has him pulling his hair in the end.

This being a monothematic play, a big cast was essential to create vignettes of developing situations that Vijay has to butt heads with. Nuanced acting by Devika Ashok as Priya, the pregnant wife, provided the most poignant moments, and brilliant directorial snippets by Vikas Dhurka , who wrote this play inspired by real life events and interactions.

Moments of mirth are regularly interspersed as Vijay faces scrutiny from German policemen at the airport; is helped and shunned by airline agents; receives assurance from his Indian friend with the right connections; is asked about his well-being by stereotypical parental units; sidelined by his boss; and directed to fill out necessary but unimportant paperwork by diplomats. Ashish Chakraborty, as Jaladhi at the Indian Consulate is particularly amusing with his exaggerated Bengali accent and AI-by-NAATAK-2055-KAmannerisms as he showcases the caricature that red tape often becomes.

Messages that Vijay receives from the TV screen at the airport terminal bring an oblique reference to the talking signpost from the movie, “L.A Story” starring Steve Martin, and provide him with the clues to solving his current problems ….although a tenuous connection, an interesting directorial twist.
While the dramedy is loosely based on reality, in today’s times, the theme rings very close to home, and reminds one of the recent travel ban posed by the current administration, and puts even seasoned travelers on high alert.

AI-by-NAATAK-2336-KAAs I was accompanied by my book club buddies, I took advantage of a discussion with the seasoned book critics to dissect the play afterwards over cups of coffee and cookies! Overall, the group gave it a thumbs up, and critiqued that the drama, action, situational comedy and pathos together made up the mosaic of an entertaining play. Some roles were overdone, such as the opening scenes by Vijay which made him look self-centered and callous towards the wife. The reference to the Berlin Wall from the TV message was lost on some, while the North and South Korea mentions rang a bell about how main character is able to engineer his reentry and reunion with his wife back in the US of A.

Archana Asthana

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