Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dance Like A Man—A Theatre Review

By Supriya Savkoor
Lillette Dubey and Vijay Crishna
Even in the bustling international milieu of the Washington, D.C. metro area, Indian plays in English are a rarity, and maybe that’s part of the appeal, but I love Indian English theatre. So lucky me when Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like A Man recently came to the Maryland suburbs (which, on a side note, is a surprising hub of great indie theatre).

One of the main draws for me was that the play was both acted and directed by the amazing Lillette Dubey, whose brilliant film performance you may have seen when she played the mother of the bride in the celebrated indie gem, Monsoon Wedding. (Another fun fact: Dubey at the time was roughly the same age as the actress who played her daughter, making her smooth, graceful performance all the more astounding).

Like the best of Indian plays in English, Dance Like A Man too is character driven, peeling back layer after interesting layer about not only its characters but about, among other things, gender roles, choices (including the lack thereof), and one’s place in the world.

The story begins when Lata (played by Suchitra Pillai) brings her unassuming  fiancé (played by Joy Sengupta), home to meet her parents, who live in the home of Lata’s late grandfather, who was a much-admired freedom fighter, helping free India of its colonial shackles. Lata, like her parents (played by Dubey and Vijay Crishna), is a classical dancer, in the style of Bharat Natyam.

Suchitra Pillai and Joy Sengupta
That’s the backdrop. The story, however, is told in brilliant, suspenseful flashes between the present, in which the newly engaged and obviously ambitious Lata is on the brink of establishing her career, and the past, in which the parents were building their own careers and their marriage.

The play was dubbed in the local market as a comedy but, while it has many moments of humor (particularly as the new fiancé figures out how to navigate through the quirks of his betrothed and her parents), it’s full of ever-heightening tension and suspense as the characters explore where they’ve come from, where they’re going, and where their true loyalties and devotions lie. Indeed, it’s brilliance hails in part because of the outstanding performances of the four actors who take two acts and 90 minutes to pull you through half a century in the life of one family and their countless challenges, mostly self inflicted.

If you get a chance, you must see this play, and chances are good, you’ll have an opportunity at a theatre near you. The actors have given more than 400 performances of this play that has traveled around the world countless times. You name it—Muscat, Amsterdam, New York, Brussels, Kuala Lampur, Singapore, Auckland—the play has been there and is most likely coming back. The New York Times puts it best: “Seeing acting of this quality is transforming ... and even if the play becomes disturbing at times .....joyful!”


  1. That sounds like a lot of fun, Supriya. Could you let us know what the title refers to? Is it a good thing to dance like a man or not?

  2. Good question---it has to do with the main issue of gender bias. Women dancing for a profession was not considered a good thing, but men doing it was (or is) considered even more degrading.