The reason Mark Twain once said that “there’s no such thing as a new idea” is that from time immemorial human beings have had a limited range of ‘personal’ issues to deal with — love, death, penury, feud, disease, intrigue and infidelity. When the creative lot picks one or two of them to express themselves, it all boils down to presentation.

The waning affection between a man and a woman who once loved each other and cohabited amicably is one such topic, effectively highlighted in Avery Corman’s novel Kramer Versus Kramer, which was adopted into an Oscar-winning movie in the late 1970s. Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, the tension between the sexes and the significance of mental health has one more time come to the fore as a veritable subject to mull over — the high divorce rate is a testimony to the observation.

The play Both Sit in Silence for a While written and directed by Ali Junejo that opened its three-day run in Karachi at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) on Friday evening is another attempt to examine the dynamics between a warring couple, played by Junejo and Rasti Farooq.

The setting is minimalistic, a bit claustrophobic, which is perhaps intentional to show the paucity of space between the two characters. The audience is sitting so close to the actors that they become part of the incessant tit-for-tit bombardment of arguments that both the man and the woman unleash at each other with varying degrees of exasperation and annoyance.

It becomes apparent from the get go that the differences, which they have developed, are almost irreconcilable. In the midst of it all is their child, not physically present in the theatrical scheme of things, who they seem to worry about in ways that oscillate between pure parental care and a hint of selfishness — an intelligent method to blur the line of what’s imagined and un-imagined.

It is a noble idea to convey because if you are a couple with children, the biggest victim of the break-up is the kids — they seldom fully recover from it. This is where you need to decide between personal freedom and collective growth.

The thing is, even noble ideas sometimes need to be communicated convincingly. Both Sit in Silence for a While is written in a way that it comes across as acting-heavy than subject-centred. Nothing wrong with that, but Farooq sometimes smothers her lines in a hurry to say them.

The dialogue is linear, and again there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the implied or evident metaphor is powerful.

Junejo is a one of the formidable theatre practitioners that we have in this country. He has done some memorable work in the past, including in a two-hander, Constellations directed by Gregory Thompson at the same venue. So he knows the nitty-gritty and the pitfalls of such an undertaking. His performance as an actor on Friday had many moments of praiseworthiness. As a writer, he needs to dig a bit deeper. Just a bit.

Originally published in Dawn, August 28th, 2022

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