Mum and Shah Blends Motion, Fancy
TWO MONKEYS, A KUNG-FU DIVA AND A PELICAN MAN WHO WALTZES WITH A WHEELBARROW ARE JUST A FEW OF THE CHARACTERS FEATURED INMUM AND SHAH, A PRODUCTION THAT OPENS THIS WEDNESDAY AT BOSTON'S LYRIC STAGE
"I wanted to juxtapose worlds that you wouldn't expect to come together," say Colby Devitt, who conceived and directed the pro-duction. "It's been exciting to have a gut feeling and see it take on life and momentum."
Munm and Shah is based on a book of poetry titled Catch! by Marc Zegans, who is a doctoral candidate at the Kennedy School of Government. He collaborated with Devitt on the script of the play.
Mum and Shah is based on the story of the Moghul emperor, Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal for his wife, Mumtaz. In the play, the emperor and his wife have been reincarnated into a pair of place monkeys named Mum and Shah, who do not realize who they are.
Their journey of discovery is the story of the play.
"I didn't write for this purpose, so we had to modify the poems to dramatic purposes," Zegans said. "We worked to find a way so the play had its own momentum."
"In the process of compromise, I've grown and the work has grown," Zegans added.
Devitt asys the partnership worked well because she and Zegans had the same definition of magic.
"Magic is finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the ordinary in the extraordinary," she said. "Magic is a way of seeing and a way of living in a world of diverse people and cultures."
The incredible diversity of characters made casting a creative proposition.
"One of the challenges was to find people in Baston who could move and express them-selves through movement," Zegans said.
Devitt appears to have risen to the challenge, assembling a group of performers as diverse as the varied cast of characters demands.
The kung fu diva is played by Bow Sim Mark, a world-renown Tai Ch'i master. She is known for her work in transforming Tai Ch'i into a performing art.
"That has been a very successful collaboration," Devitt said about her work with Mark. "Her goal has been to theatricalize this movement, not as a show bit, but integrate it into a character."
The chorus of monkeys is played by the "Jamnastics Performance Team," which combines gymnastics and hip hop movements. Devitt says the group is "high energy," and has the "rambunctious gymuasts" she was looking for.
The performance is neither a play with dance numbers nor a dance performance, but something in the middle, called physical theater.
Although many Americans are not familiar with physical theater, Devitt says there is a strong European tradition.
"When I was studying with Marcel Marceau I was a practitioner of that tredition," Devitt said. "When I chose plays, I was always trying to incorporate movement."
Zegans said he volues the play's use of physical language to complement the text.
"In the U.S. we are so word obsessed we miss the richness of physical vocabulary," Zegans said.
Devitt disagreed slightly with Zegans, saying that today's culture is image-obsessed, which makes physical theater even more powerful.
"The theater has been a place for theater to reflect on words," Devitt said. "Physical theater allows that same process with images. Theater can help us absorb, process and reflect on the flood of images."
The flexibility of the performance was one of it's greatest strengths, Devitt said.
"We've added whole dances that weren't there before," Devitt said. "The text was always designed to be adapted."
Mum and Shah opens at the Lyric stage in Boston this Wednesday at 7 p.m. and will also be performed July 13-15 and the 19-22 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.