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The world we imagine

The world we imagine

KARACHI: Mary Chase’s play Harvey is a fascinating study of man’s need for creating a world, apart from the one that he lives in, to give his existence some semblance of meaningfulness. It is the playwright’s eccentric characters and the remarkable grip on the plot that has kept the story relevant even more than 60 years after it was first staged. The late Kamal Ahmed Rizvi’s Urdu adaptation of the play titled Aarfy, directed by Akbar Islam, as the second drama in the ongoing theatre festival organised by the Arts Council had the audience’s undivided attention on Saturday evening.

Atiya (Zarqa Naz) and her daughter Maryam (Faryal) live with Atiya’s’ brother S. M. Ahmed (Akbar Islam). When the play opens, there’s party atmosphere in the house. Atiya and Maryam are in conversation which doesn’t reveal much about the quirkiness of the other member of the family. As soon as Ahmed makes an appearance, things take a swift turn and from then on not just Ahmed but another creature takes centre stage.

Ahmed is an amiable character. The amiability is a little disconcerting because he has an imaginary friend, Aarfy (a six-foot-tall rabbit) who seems to accompany him wherever he goes. He talks to Aarfy, shows him where to sit and opens doors for him. Atiya, being a go-getter, is uncomfortable with the situation, so very early into the play she decides to take Ahmed to a ‘mental hospital’.

At the hospital Dr Ahsan (Hamza Shykh) and Erum (Sehrish Qadeer) botch up the situation by mistaking Atiya for the patient. It is when Dr Zulfi (Khalid Sherwani) comes into the hospital that it’s revealed that Ahmed is the one they should be treating. A frantic search for the man with an imaginary friend follows, and in the process other characters, mainly Dr Zulfi, begin to take a shine to Aarfy.

Aarfy is an incisive commentary on the dysfunctional aspect of society, not just an individual’s, whose causes can be looked for in a number of reasons — personal, familial, social, psychological, economic. To overcome this we build things around us, tangible or intangible, which lend us support. The support, mind you, can backfire as well. This is where the play is significant on multiple levels. Only one line said by Aarfy encapsulates the whole theme: “Aarfy waqt ko rok sakta hai” (Aarfy can hold back time).

Saturday’s effort successfully engaged the audience as they waited eagerly for Aarfy to make his next appearance. Akbar Islam as Ahmed came across as an utterly believable character. He was convincing as a man who doesn’t mean any harm to anyone and wants to visualise, not see, life the way he wants to. But Zarqa Naz was no less impressive as an ambitious woman who doesn’t overlook filial bond. Alas, the other actors did not work as hard on their lines and movement which left quite a bit to be desired. Faraz Shykh was in a hurry to say his lines and Khalid Sherwani kept forgetting his. Also, the script was good enough and did not require references to local art institutions to give it a contemporary touch.

It was nice to see the Arts Council auditorium bursting at the seams. It goes to show how much people love the theatre. But the council should also realise the decorum and discipline that’s associated with watching a stage production. Once the doors are closed, no one should be allowed to get in. It’s distracting for performers to see people pouring in and sitting down while they are in the middle of a scene.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2016

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