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Gender Bender

Wednesday, March 06, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

This play opened a few years ago, but the subject of gender fluidity it took up, is even more in the news now than it was then. Ila was the first production (in 2014) by the newly-minted The Patchworks Ensemble, and after they have done more clutter-breaking plays, this one remains their best known; it always gets an enthusiastic audience, whenever it returns (it had some shows last weekend).

The play was devised by the actors, who, along with the directors, created a piece that is cheeky, energetic and humorous. The actors-- Amey Mehta, Bhavna Pani, Deepal Doshi, Mukul Chadda, Shruti Mishra, Prerna Chawla Rachel D'souza and Shruti Vyas---the women dressed in androgynous costumes—alternate between a ladies’ compartment in a local train, and a folk tale about a king, who entered a forbidden forest and was turned into a woman. On pleading for the curse to be revoked, he was given a lighter punishment, by which his gender would change as the moon waxed and waned, so he alternated between being male, female and in-between. As a woman he gets pregnant, and a man he sires children—and there are two sides to this family, to which he is mother or father.

The play questions in a quirky and entertaining way what it means to be male or female, and must everyone strictly follow gender roles? Though the issue is a serious one and in these thin-skinned times, everybody is quick to take offece, the play never loses its light touch. The dance pieces that convey the move from one gender to another are graceful and lively.

Many devised productions have an ad hoc look to them, but Ila appears well thought out, intelligently structured and vibrant enough to warrant multiple viewings.

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