Letters Of Suresh Play Review: It Keeps The Audience Glued With Its Clever Writing

Letters Of Suresh Play Review: It Keeps The Audience Glued With Its Clever Writing

In these days of quick-fix WhatsApp communication, one doesn’t come across the term ‘PS’ (post-script) too often, unless you hear a retro band perform the Beatles hit PS I Love You

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Sunday, May 26, 2024, 02:36 PM IST
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In these days of quick-fix WhatsApp communication, one doesn’t come across the term ‘PS’ (post-script) too often, unless you hear a retro band perform the Beatles hit PS I Love You. It was thus a pleasant surprise to hear it many times in Feroz Abbas Khan’s latest play Letters Of Suresh, staged at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) Studio Theatre from May 9 to 12. In fact, it didn’t end there, as one of the characters even used ‘PPS’ and ‘PPPS’.

Written by American playwright Rajiv Joseph, the English play uses communication through letters to narrate the tale of a young Origami expert Suresh (played by Vir Hirani), who writes letters to a Japanese priest Father Hashimoto (Harssh Singh) after they have met in Nagasaki, Japan. In theatre parlance, such a production using letters as the main medium is called an epistolary play. Khan has used the format in a different manner in his famous Tumhari Amrita, a Hindi adaptation of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, whose original English version was directed in India by Rahul DaCunha.

In Letters Of Suresh, the four actors don’t read out the letters, but recite from memory. The text is rather intense, using metaphors and anecdotes to describe a connection between four people, some of who haven’t even met. The audience needs to listen to each line closely, and lapses in concentration may affect the flow.

A large section is enacted through monologues. It begins with Seattle-based teacher Melody (Palomi Ghosh), who has written her first letter to Suresh introducing herself as the grand-niece of Father Hashimoto, who has passed away in Nagasaki, at the age of 93. She tells Suresh that she has found in the priest’s possessions an Origami bird and some letters he had written to him, using a Boston return address.

In her narration, Melody describes her visit to Nagasaki, and how during the last rites, where she had known nobody else, she didn’t even shoo off a mosquito that her placed itself on her hand, lest she disturb the peace. She talks of how her parents estranged from her sister, and how her reading of Suresh’s letters helped them patch up.

Her part is followed by the entry of Indian-American Suresh, who incidentally was a character in Rajiv Joseph’s earlier Origami-based play Animals Out Of Paper. Here, he begins as an 18-year-old lad who is convinced he is a genius, though his reversed red cap makes him look more like a baseball spectator. His letters recall his meeting with the priest in Nagasaki, how he was deeply affected by the death of his mother in a hit-and-run, the connection between his moods and the colours he sees, and his one-sided love for his Origami mentor. The script shows him as he gets older – bespectacled and in smart jacket. Through his letters, Suresh describes his views on religion (“I am a Hindu and an atheist” and “Science Is my religion”) and romantic leanings (the names of all girls from Elena to Ami begin and end with vowels).

Till this point, the play’s format uses the letters, but there’s a brief change when Suresh calls his estranged lover Amelia (Radhika Sawhney) and ends up having a FaceTime chat with her. As Suresh has returned to Japan and Amelia receives the letters Melody has sent to him, she responds by writing back. The play ends with a letter written by Father Hashimoto to Suresh, read out in flashback, even referring to the day Nagasaki was bombed in World War II, and how it changed his life.

At just less than 90 minutes without a break, Letters Of Suresh keeps the audience glued with its clever writing, and the way the characters take turns in building the narrative. It may appear that the opening section with Melody is a shade too long, but it sets the pretext. One also felt the humour came only in patches. The music, by Piyush Kanojia, is subtle, playing softly only in select spots. With a standard set-up of three seating spots and a desk, there are no changes in stage look that affect the flow.

Writer Rajiv Joseph, whose father hails from Kerala, has a consistent track record, having also written Guards At The Taj (staged fabulously by Danish Hussain), and the critically-acclaimed Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo and Describe The Night. His Letters Of Suresh has been staged to positive feedback in the US.

For his part, director Khan has extracted fabulous performances from all four actors. Palomi, Radhika and Harssh do justice, but it’s young Vir Hirani who shines. The son of filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, he has an impressive way of connecting with the audience and modulating his voice.

As for Khan, it’s a delight to see him back with intimate theatre, after mammoth multi-artiste productions like Mughal-e-Azam and The Great Indian Musical: Civilsation To Nation. Besides Tumhari Amrita, he has earlier directed Salesman Ramlal, with Satish Kaushik in a memorable role, and Saalgirah, featuring Anupam and Kirron Kher. Such a format, suited for a smaller venue, is more personal, and that feeling was evident at the NMACC Studio.

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