BROKEN IMAGES by Girish Karnad (Neeraja Ramjee). At Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen East). Runs to August 20. $20-$25. facebook.com/brokenimagesplay..
Theres an interesting story at the heart of this short, solo literary mystery from Girish Karnad, but having the main character interrogated by her video doppelganger isnt the best way to tell it.
Neeraja Ramjee plays Manjula, a professor in India whose first English-language novel achieves worldwide success, but prompts a backlash at home from some who feel she should have written in Tamil. To address the controversy, Manjula gives a nationally broadcast prime-time interview, but afterward, a large screen in the studio springs to life and a magical video version of herself (also Ramjee on pre-recorded video) begins asking her deep questions, which leads to some juicy revelations about her husband and recently deceased sister.
The video elements present the biggest issues. First off, when Manjula is giving the TV interview, Ramjee simply speaks to the audience, with a large screen to her left displaying a live feed. There is quite a noticeable lag between the two, which, when viewed side-by-side, exacerbates the distraction of constantly having to choose whether to watch Ramjee IRL or onscreen.
The interaction between Manjula and her on-screen double comprises the bulk of the 40-minute show, and is achieved by Ramjee conversing with a pre-recorded video. Director Clinton Walker could have made these static exchanges more dynamic, but the biggest problem here is timing. Shorter exchanges are mostly fine, but the longer Manjulas responses go on, the more likely it is that Ramjees delivery is awkwardly cut off by the video, or finishes too soon, leaving dead air.
Given that the family drama drawn out by the doppelganger has nothing to do with digital media, copies or visual representation (themes pushed in the program, but hardly evident onstage) its unclear why this format was chosen at all. Without offering any spoilers, Karnads story contains dramatic, emotional twists and thought-provoking ideas about the politics of language, authenticity and national identity in India, but these would be better served by a more traditional dramatic treatment.