This is the story of Nandini, a beautiful woman who appears at a time of the oppression of humanity by greed and power. The antagonist in the story is the King, who represents enormous authority but barricades himself behind an iron curtain. He transforms a town into a fort and the humans into digging machines who grope in the dark searching for gold.
In this soulless mining town, people forget the beauty of nature, the green meadows, the dazzling sunshine, the tenderness and love between humans. Nandini arrives to salvage humanity trapped behind mechanized tyranny. She eventually frees the oppressed souls who are toiling underground, but at a great sacrifice. The story ends in an unexpected climax after Tagore knits an intricate network of sequences that ultimately becomes a parable.
A multicultural cast, crew and musicians work with artistic and music direction by a young Actor/ Director from the west coast. A story written some eighty years ago comes alive on a contemporary stage with brilliant ambience of colors, sounds and music and intense tension that creates an exquisite theatrical experience of excellence.
Nupur Lahiri is a Psychiatrist in Princeton,
founded Nirmal Memorial Library
and Bengal Foundations of America.
She writes short stories, poetry and essays
in Bengali and English and has been an active member
of Princeton Creative Writers Group.
"I live in Princeton, a university town, where I have opportunities to speak to many individuals who are interested in world literature. Very few are familiar with Tagore's work. Those who might not recognize the name 'Tagore' are not at all familiar with the vastness and diversity of his works in literature, music and the arts. It is unfortunate that among western readers there is limited awareness of Tagore's contribution."
"My long-standing wish, and bit of an obsession, has been to bring Tagore's Red Oleanders to the western world in a form that is free and comprehensible, while maintaining the original message of the play. To create this new version I studied and compared the original Bengali Rakta Karabi to Tagore's own translation, Red Oleanders. I reviewed the translation by Dr. Ananda Lal, and then ventured to do a contemporary translation and adaptation of the play. I eliminated some of the idioms that are rarely used nowadays and decided to eliminate some of the characters from the original play to simplify the content for easier reading and successful staging."
"The primary purpose of the project is to have the directors and actors from the English-speaking world produce the play with ease. I chose not to include a long biography of Tagore or an exhaustive introduction with numerous references, notes and a glossary in this book."
"This project is not aimed to expose the readers to the enormous volumes of Tagore literature. There are many reference book available for that purpose."
"My dream is perhaps to see this version of Red Oleanders presented on mainstream stages. Today's audience and readers may appreciate Rabindranath Tagore's prediction about the future of mankind in the context of contemporary civilization, from his vantage point, some eighty years ago."
Subhasis is a young, energetic experimental theater practitioner. He has been trained in different forms of theater from his childhood at Santiniketan, India. His theater practice found a new avenue of expression when he started working with legendary playwright Badal Sircar. Subhasis was then introduced to the “third theater movement”—a theater that defied the notions of a structured space or the proscenium stage and reached out to the audience, making the audience an integral part of the theater. Subhasis was trained in different workshop techniques and methods and has been putting them into practice for the last 12 years in the many plays that he has directed in India as well as in the USA to much critical acclaim.
Red Oleanders (Tagore’s“Raktokarabi”) is always a challenge for every director and at the same time an opportunity to find out another layer of Tagore’s philosophy. Every time I look into this play, I find a new door opening for me. The most fascinating part of this play is its abstractness and poetry, which allows one’s mind to travel across time and space. Simultaneously, it is very close to our day-to-day reality.
Each character of Red Oleanders is an individual shade of a single human character. The various relationships among these characters are the reflections of every external and internal conflict a human being experiences. In this production, our team wants to understand those relationships in an abstract, imaginary way. With the help of stage sets, lighting, music and chorus movement research, we want to create a space where we can rely on the audience’s presence to extend this visual beyond its frame and pose a timeless play into everyone’s imagination.
A young broadway and TV actor,
as well as an artist and musician:
"Literary scholars and drama critics seem to agree that Tagore’s Red Oleanders is a “problem play,” and has within it unresolvable issues that make it’s staging a fairly dubious venture. They cite evidence that no successful production of the piece has ever been staged, due to irrelevant themes and clunky language, and that it would be better suited for a dusty corner of a bookshelf and than lit up on a stage, overlooked and passed over in conversation; a lesser play from a major writer.
It is my opinion that Theater is inherently political, and a play can only be overlooked and relegated to that dusty bookshelf when it fails to reflect the current social and cultural concerns. That being said, it appears that Red Oleanders’ time has, after many years, finally arrived. Never in history has the human race come to an at least tenuous but irrefutable acceptance of the fact that without some revolutionary lifestyle changes, as a planet, we face global catastrophe, the destruction of our Earth by the hands of the dominant species.
Tagore’s image of a cold and thoughtless King, absent yet all-seeing, who’s only obsessive and maniacal goal is to rape the earth of a natural resource at the expense of the very humanity around him, is one that perhaps will ring frighteningly familiar in recent history. This King’s only challenge is in the form of a lone revolutionary, a young girl, an innocent in love, who’s only political weapon is a flower she’s picked, a red symbol of irrepressible nature that grows rebelliously in an industrial wasteland: this is imagery that resonates from Tianenmen Square to Saudi Arabia to Washington D.C. If the CNN video feed of Saddam Hussein’s statue being pulled down in Baghdad is not compelling theater then what is it? In our most recent history, Tagore’s play finally reflects the world around us, if in a frightening and all too apocalyptic way.
When a piece of theater transcends the comfortable realm of social distraction of an evening’s entertainment, and enters the arena of political statement by means of a revolutionary message, then Theater once again becomes vital and necessary, an important aspect of our community and our lives.
Staging Tagore’s Red Oleanders is not without its challenges. Trying to strike a naturalistic chord with the words of a poet, lines heavy with imagery and symbolism, will indeed be a feat. But Nupur Lahiri’s translation has already alleviated a considerable amount of that burden. In this new translation, the language has been economized, the dialogue streamlined, and ultimately Lahiri and Tagore have left us with a very workable blueprint for a classic play, who’s time has only now arrived."
Celebrated Indian poet and novelist,
"'Rakto Karabi' is an especially mentionable play by Tagore. The central theme continues to point the finger at the crisis due to unscrupulous industrialism and capitalism in the entire world. For successful staging of this play in Bengali the ancient and incomprehensible idioms need to change. Although many of the songs are pleasing in their own right, they arrest the flow of the play and need to be eliminated..."
"English translation of 'Rakto Karabi' has not yet been successfully staged. Still, today, the possibility of its effective production in the western world is there with some editing and reworking the original version. Nupur Lahiri has completed this complicated task. She is full of life and energy and remains involved with many projects. However, her mission of this translation required many stages of rewriting and re-editing to ultimately create a beautiful form: an example of sincere devotion to Rabindranath Tagore. A fresh production and staging will determine the value...of 'Red Oleanders'. I strongly believe that the success of this endeavor is waiting in the near future."
30 years of being a successful multi media artist,
philosopher, writer, musician, composer and event maker:
Andor has traveled widely presenting performances,
creativity workshops, and multi-media events.
"Red Oleanders is similar to The King of the Dark Chamber. It is an allegorical play, and Tagore uses a simple central metaphor, a sparse setting and a small cast of main characters."
"Unlike Beckett, Tagore builds, layers and loads his plays with symbolism and allegory to an extreme. In this light he wants to evoke spiritual insight or understanding of the world and ourselves. Already the title Red Oleanders contains an ambiguity - beauty and death, one of the ominous motives alluded to repeatedly. The Red Oleander is a beautiful flower growing on a tall shrub, but the plant is extremely toxic, lethal, all parts of it, even when dried."
"This play is charged with too many figurative references and comparisons. This symbolic overload gets in the way of the drama and needs editing. The allegorical condensation built up by Tagore's poetic diction requires reflection, but in the course of a drama there is not much time for deciphering complex imagery."
"Localization is more than translation. Grammar, sentence structure, tone, style, formality, humor and idiomatic expressions differ from culture to culture. Localization is a complex art. Besides a good familiarity with both languages it requires cultural experience, a gut feeling for the anthropology of everyday life and a knack for imaginitive interpretation. The gist and local flavor of the target culture has to be brought out and expressed via International Standard English. Thus the universalized, filtered English is re-adapted to a particular language or culture."
"Did Nupur Lahiri succeed in her endeavor? It is too early to say. First her script needs to be brought to the stage and performed for a while in different countries of the English-speaking world, before one can tell. But it certainly is a step in the right direction."
Review by Scott Mcvay
Founder Excecutive Director
From what I wrote you today and thinking on the matter a little further, I would say:
Nupur Gangopadhyay Lahiri's translation of Red Oleanders is breath-taking and suitable for the stage. We are much taken by her exquisite choice of words to convey Tagore's essential meaning. This translation is absolutely for our time, speaking to the heart of the human dilemma on a crowded planet where crass brutality sometimes rules the day, and courage often pays a terrible price.
And yet, Tagore has such sensibilities that he can convey our high hopes at the edge of the imagination as he did for example when he wrote
The butterfly flitting from flower to flower ever remains mine, I lose the one that is netted by me.
Tagore reveals in that thought his sense of loss of even a small part of the animal kingdom.
In this utterly contemporary play, Tagore reveals the magnitude of large losses but an underlying hope is not lost in Dr. Lahiri's superb translation.