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Murakami Monologues brings surrealism to the stage

The Play Factory debuts with a performance of a trio of Murakami’s short stories that have been adapted for the stage

art and culture Updated: Jun 03, 2017 08:21 IST
Aparna Alluri
Japanese author Haruki Murakami is known for his works like  A Wild Sheep Chase, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84.
Japanese author Haruki Murakami is known for his works like A Wild Sheep Chase, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84.(Corbis via Getty Images)

“I just can’t sleep. Not for one second. Aside from that simple fact, I am perfectly normal.”

That impossible thought, from Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s Sleep, goes to the heart of his work and its appeal: an effortless juxtaposition of the ordinary and the extraordinary. Here was a 30-year-old Japanese housewife who had gone 17 days without sleep. But everything else about her life, true to her word, seems fine, even mundane. Until you dig deeper. That’s when her doubts — and the surrealism and gloom that is characteristic of Murakami’s writing — surface.

“I love that mix,” says 27-year-old Mohit Mukherjee who has adapted three of Murakami’s short stories, including Sleep, for the stage. The result: Murakami Monologues, a trio based on his short stories, which will be performed this weekend. The show is also the debut of The Play Factory, a theatre group founded by Mukherjee and three of his friends — Varoon Anand, Devika Rajpal and Pranjal Vaid — each of whom are performing one of the monologues.

Rehearsals for Murakami Monologues: Devika Rajpal plays a character who hasn’t slept for 17 days. (Courtesy: The Play Factory)

Banality meets drama in the other two stories as well: On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning is about a young man who falls in love at first sight with a stranger and agonises over how to approach her; in ‘The Second Bakery Attack’, a newly wed couple wake to a gnawing hunger that forces them to rob a McDonald’s outlet.

Why Murakami? “All of us are really big fans of Murakami”, says Varoon Anand who is performing On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning. Anand and Mukherjee have worked together before (they have each directed the other in a play) and have long discussed the idea of bringing Murakami to the stage.

Although read in translation, Murakami, according to Mukherjee, lends himself to adaptation. “These characters exist everywhere,” Mukherjee says. “She keeps saying she’s okay but what is she actually feeling?” He is referring to the narrator in Sleep. That outward denial, he says, doesn’t stop her from wondering about her happiness, her feelings towards her husband and son, while she lies awake through the night.

But how do you show that state of contemplation on stage? “I have played with the structure a lot” says Mukherjee. He has adjusted timelines, juggled the lines and even introduced an original five-minute scene into On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.

The play is based on Murakami’s stories from his 1993 anthology, The Elephant Vanishes.

We had to figure out how much we wanted to keep, how much of the text we wanted to use,” says Anand.

Murakami’s stories, usually narrated in the first person, are a seamless flow of thoughts and hard to translate into action: people’s emotions; or their uncanny, inexplicable convictions.

Take the case of The Second Bakery Attack. “How do you show hunger on stage? asks Anand. Especially when the characters believe the hunger they are experiencing is, in fact, a “curse.” Or in his own monologue of On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning. “It’s an image in someone’s head,” says Anand. “It’s an idea of complete certainty. But then how do you act on it?”

The actors improvised too — what Mukherjee calls “jostling with the script.” That’s why, says Anand, they chose Murakami over a script that was ready for the stage. “As theatre artists we wanted to be challenged.”

What: Murakami Monologues by The Play Factory
When:
7 pm, June 3 and 4
Where:
The Exposition Hall, Instituto Cervantes, 48, Hanuman Road, Connaught Place
Nearest metro station:
Rajiv Chowk
Entry is free