Adapted Indian classic comes to York stage

Theatre@York will translate the glory of an ancient language and art form when it presents its second show of its 2003/2004 season. The play, Shakuntala [shak-UNE-ta-la] written by the 5th-century AD playwright Kalidasa [kal-i-DESH] promises to transport audiences into the rapturous past of ancient India.

Directed by Charles Roy, a York MFA student, Shakuntala is considered by academics to be a masterpiece of Sanskrit literature. Roy, in an effort to make the play more accessible to its audience, has drafted his own version of Shakuntala.

“This production of Shakuntala, is an experiment in merging the theories and cultured practices of ancient Sanskrit drama with contemporary Western theatre. In reading numerous translations of the play, I felt that none of them contained all of the necessary ingredients to support a rich, live production suitable for a Western audience,” said Roy. “I decided to draft my own adaptation, based largely on P. Lal’s 1956 version, to incorporate the formality, piety and magnificent poetry and passion that I found scattered amongst the various translations.”

While Roy has based his version on the conventions of Sanskrit theatre, he has also blended into the performance mime and dance drawn from Western theatre. “My aim is to make one of the world’s great dramatic masterpieces accessible to Canadians,” said Roy. “This new script is designed to strip Western audiences of their preconceptions of Indian performance, i.e. ‘Bollywood’, and demonstrate an erotic passion and spiritual beauty that is typically Indian but also one which is universal and can be appreciated by audiences of any culture.”

Kalidasa is renowned as the greatest Indian writer of any period, though little is known about his life. First translated into English from its original Sanskrit in the 18th century, Shakuntala is generally considered to be his best work. It tells the story of a king who falls in love with a girl of humble origins, the beautiful Shakuntala. Fate, however, soon diverts their happiness when the king is put under a curse that causes him to lose all recollection of her. A time honoured tale, Shakuntala is a necklace of poetic love strung with humour.

Theatre@York productions showcase the talents of students in York University’s Department of Theatre. The cast for Shakuntala is drawn from its fourth-year undergraduate acting ensemble. Set design is by Olive Lam, costume design by Sarah Melamed and lighting design by David Janzen.

For reservations, please call Theatre@York Box Office at 416-736-5172, extension 3. Shakuntala runs from Jan. 25 to Jan. 31 at the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre, Centre for Film & Theatre, Keele campus.