Actors’ dispatches from India
Theater MXT — comprising actor-director Edward Morgan, actor-playwright John Kishline, actress Deborah Clifton and stage manager Sam Kishline — are on a six-city tour of India. Periodically, they’ll share their adventure with TCD and with you.
Thursday August 4
11:42 a.m. Milwaukee. The bus is pulling out and we are on it; we’re sleepy, a little scattered, and bemused with the improbability of it all. We’re going to India. Right now.
Friday August 5
American Airlines flight #292: Over Canada, over Greenland, down through the far north of Europe, past Moscow, Baghdad, Kabul and over the mountains to Indian skies. After 14 hours, I can’t decide whether the crying babies have subsided or if I’ve become immune to their average pitch.
The plane descends and the sense of adventure rises. Those little roads and patches of green and brown grow more detailed. Villages and towns dot a landscape of agricultural squares. Then scores of dirty apartment buildings, all the same, all in rows, and somehow foreign. It’s rainy.
I imagine new experiences – new smells and sounds and names and thoughts and sensations – lining up at the doors of my perception. How can this journey fail to change me?
A smooth landing. Scattered applause. Welcome to Indira Ghandi International airport, 5:45 p.m Delhi time, 7:15 a.m. in Milwaukee.
Saturday August 6
We’ve spent a day in New Delhi and settled in the five-star Lalit Hotel, where everyone greets us with hands joined deferentially before them and a slight bow. Namaskar, Namaste. It’s both a greeting and a parting; it’s kind of ennobling and easy to return. It’s time to establish our essential relationships – with Kriti Pant, actress and new Indian colleague; with U.S. Embassy folks; with our work here; and with the Indian pace of life.
After a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel, our embassy car takes us to the American Center, a public building for the U.S. Consulate. We pass through security, and the introductions begin: to our principal host from the embassy, to the director of media, and especially to Kriti. She auditioned by Skype and we’ve had various internet conversations, including a little rehearsal, but this is the first time face to face.
Kriti spent two adolescent years in Louisville, Kentucky, where her physician parents worked on their specializations. Her English is more American than Brit, which is right for our show, and she seems to understand our idiom in an effortless way. She’s both talented and lovely and we feel lucky to have found her from a general newspaper print ad months ago.
She amazes us with news that an uncle has just moved to Milwaukee. Sunday, he opened his Journal Sentinel to find a photo of his niece, along with the article about our Indian tour. It’s a fantastic coincidence – and more than a little fortunate – as we plan to produce Success in March at Next Act Theatre and had planned to bring Kriti over the Milwaukee production. Now she has family in Milwaukee and a place to stay, and we have instant connections to the Indian community. Perhaps Ganesh, the elephant god, is smiling on our venture.
Before we can start rehearsal, we have journalists to deal with. They want to see scenes from the play. We oblige with sections from each of the scenes, and Kriti is thrown into the fray. She’s on her feet and acting with Kish for the first time, with the news photographers clicking away and embassy personnel looking on. She’s more than ready. I feel lucky to have her — and really smart for suggesting we cast an Indian in this role. She’s fresh, too; Kish, Deborah and I are a big foggy and behind the beat. Jet-lagged.
Eventually we’re left alone, to really rehearse. We work our way through most of the play. I feel new energy building. Certainly, people are excited we’re here. I feel new confidence that the play — about business, success and its costs — will hit home for an Indian audience. Perhaps I’m fantasizing, but I’m encouraged. The time feels auspicious for a play, as India rapidly ascends the ladder of capitalism and a more prominent place in the world. Of course, that’s been our intention all along, but suddenly it the success of Success seems probable.
I recall the cab ride from the airport. The driver recounted Obama’s recent trip to New Delhi and his “very important” meetings with the Indian President. “Very, very important meetings,” the driver repeated himself several times.
We do our best to nap before heading to a South Indian dinner at a restaurant nearby. We beat the dinner rush and are treated to a feast of dosai and a dozen bowls of dal, chutney and all sorts of dips and sauces. Our first real Indian meal is wonderful.
Then we take a quick stroll through a nearby market. Silk and fabric and trinkets abound. We have our first encounters with hard-sell Indian street merchants. Clearly, we must learn to maintain a forward focus and shell of impenetrability, or this will be a long trip. I travel a lot and drop into my routine, eyes forward, with a half smiling “no” on my lips. Deborah’s ready to bargain and buy things; Kish is tired and concerned about how much cash he’s carrying. We walk a bit, then cab back to the hotel and our comfortable beds. It’s 9:45 p.m. I’m whupped. To sleep.