Can you ever truly detach from the world? From emotions, like heartache, greed, love? From the mundane, the pettiness of every day existence? Is this truly liberation, or is renunciation of the world a different kind of bondage?
The Hindu tradition of the sanyasi could be described in the simplest terms as a man who chooses to live an austere life, his actions detached from emotion and desire, as the final stage towards achieving moksha – liberation. It’s far more complex than just that, of course, layered with different meanings explored from the Bhagavad Gita onward. Performed by Namayesh Productions, Rabindranath Tagore’s play Sanyasi is an achingly beautiful work examining whether the spiritual desire for liberation and the essential need for love can co-exist.
Tagore was a profound Bengali poet/writer/scholar (the first non-Westerner to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, in 1913) and the words of Sanyasi have a haunting power. The production is seamlessly directed by Ameneh Bordi, the action flowing continuously to match the poetic language. An ensemble of six actors are constantly moving and morphing around the sanyasi (Evan Sanderson), creating a visual trance reinforced by bursts of song. Keith Adams’ original music is almost always present underneath, a bittersweet counterpoint that is strongly reinforced by Stephanie P. Freed’s hypnotic lighting design.
Tagore is uncovering truths about the human condition with sadness and longing, as the sanyasi meets Vasanti (Nikki Massoud), the untouchable who despite her hardships still harbors a bountiful ability to love. Their dance between the longing for connection and the knowledge that it may bring suffering is sketched with simplicity by Sanderson and Massoud, two actors not only able to intelligently ground their intentions in the text but also give life to the importance of silence. Surrounded by a deeply committed ensemble, the whole effect is that of a company dedicated to bringing Tagore’s exquisite language to life.
Minimal, yet lush. Simple, yet complex. It’s a mesmerizing experience.