I am sure there are many lessons in The Mahabharata, an Indian epic which includes the story on which “Draupadi’s Arranged Marriage” is based, but “be careful what you wish for” must be one of them.
Draupadi is a princess who prays for the perfect man. She loves Karna, the boy next door, but he is from a lower caste which prevents their marriage. Instead, Draupadi is forced into a match with Arjun Pandava, whose mother insists that whatever Arjun has must be shared with his four brothers. So Draupadi must marry all five Pandava brothers. The gods couldn’t create one perfect man to satisfy Draupadi’s wish, so she is stuck with five.
Draupadi’s Arranged Marriage is billed as a modern take on this tale with the aim of exploring women’s rights and arranged marriage. I’m afraid I saw no evidence of this aim being achieved.
In a series of scenes with each of her husbands, Draupadi (Bethany Rishell) does pose questions on radical topics including how she is treated, her limited freedoms, why her husbands didn’t object when their mother said she had to marry all five of them, and even sex. Unfortunately, she never seems to get any answers.
Draupadi’s Arranged Marriage
closes July 29, 2018
Details and tickets
Several of these conversations result in her husbands telling her, in one way or another, to stop complaining. Draupadi rebels against the confinement of her situation, but the repetitive nature of each of these scenes left me feeling trapped (perhaps that was intended). Draupadi often sums up her situation in odd ways such as “No one asked me if I wanted to be the wife of five men. We’re in a crappy situation.” While that is the promised contemporary language, it’s not an exploration.
Each scene transition includes a voice-of-god (or whatever higher being you believe) narration and a video component that displays a trippy, starry sky and then an Indian setting telling us where we are. At times the narration functions as a substitute for action that might have been more effective had it been performed. At others, the narrator asks questions that one might ask in a talkback to stimulate discussion. This made it even more disappointing that meaningful conversations didn’t occur on stage.
The performances by Rishell, her husbands, and other supporting cast members were earnest, but the main characters required so little range that the effect was stifling. A highlight of the show was a lovely bridal dance performed by Nalini Mirajkar to celebrate the marriage of Draupadi and Arjun.
Draupadi’s Arranged Marriage. Director: Sri Mirajkar. Playwright: Dr. Nishi Chawla. Featuring: Sri Mirajkar, Bethany Rishell, Raymond Hewlett, Vikrum Mathur, Pushkar Vartak, Paresh Parekh, Bhavin Shah. Composer: Stuti Banerjee. Produced by Nishi Chawla and Sri Mirajkar.