Section: Arts

Review: Battlefield adapts the Mahabharata for the stage

Review: Battlefield adapts the Mahabharata for the stage

College Dance, Drama and Cinema Club’s (KCDC) latest production to begin. The stage was set with a circular structure of rocks and bamboo-like sticks hanging from the ceiling. As the lights dimmed, an actor emerged with a drum and began beating a jumpy rhythm while the sound of vultures replaced the ambient music. 

This was the opening to Battlefield, KCDC’s newest play directed by Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama and Film Jonathan Tazewell ’84. A somber religious and philosophical parable, it was originally adapted by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne in 2015 from Le Mahabharata by Jean Claude-Carrière, a French play itself based on the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata.

The story centers around Yudishtira (Hank Thomas ’24), who has just won a Homeric war against his cousins, the Kauravas, and is set to become the new king. Both he and the old king, Dritarashtra (Tommy Sinclair ’26), who has been blinded in battle, struggle to see the point of living and ruling after experiencing the horrors of war and intra-family bloodshed. With the help of Yudishtira’s uncle Vidura (Osose Omofomah ’26), the gods and some mythical fables, the audience is drawn into a rumination on Hindu philosophy, the acceptance of duty and destiny in the face of evil and the ultimate meaning of life.

Sinclair was a highlight of the performance. His raw intensity and passion for his character were enthralling to watch. Thomas gave a solid performance of deadpan stoicism and fury, although he did not match Sinclair’s method-like commitment. Omofomah’s Vidura held a calming presence on the stage, nicely balancing the melodrama of his fellow actors.

Tazewell’s staging and Assistant Professor of Drama Tatjana Longerot’s set design was beautiful. Utilizing the central rock structure, Tazewell crafted many scenes with characters moving in circular motions or surrounding a central figure. The opening scene sees actors mock-fighting in a circle around the rocks. Some poor timing — when the ensemble was supposed to be moving in sync with each other and weren’t — made this opening slightly awkward. Though, later uses of circling movements, such as the use of fabric, were innovative ways to keep the audience’s eyes on the stage and immersed in the feeling of the tale. One notable moment where this worked especially well was when the cast surrounded Vidura’s dying body, which lay angled on an open casket made of wood, as an orange sun set directly behind him. 

 Associate Professor of Drama Rebecca Wolf’s lighting design was dramatic and mythically bright, becoming a warm amber sun when a natural death was coming, deep red as an omen for the kingdom and bright blue when we entered the supernatural realm. This adept use of color gave scenes an additional layer of emotional depth, helping to create mood in a play where dialogue may be lost to audience members as a result of complicated, antiquated language. Combined with the added tempo of the onstage drumbeat and ambient vulture sounds, I found myself immersed in the world of ancient India. 

One audience and personal favorite was the fable portion of the play, where cast members played different animals recounting moral tales intended to help Yudishtira accept his destiny as king. Actors slithered like snakes, wriggled like worms and fluttered like pigeons to create a wonderful camp comedic effect. The audience was at its liveliest here, happy for the comedic relief in a largely austere classical piece. 

Despite some awkward timing mistakes and a few scenes of overly dramatic delivery, Battlefield was a lovely piece of theater. With Tazewell’s accomplished production design and blocking, a play which could have become tedious remained entertaining and endearing, right up to its mystical ending. As the lights went up in the Bolton Theater, I found myself uplifted by Battlefield’s profound contemplations on the fated meaning of humanity’s existence, especially when that existence seems pointless and cruel.


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