Theatre review: Impermanence Of Ice Cream more vulture mystery, less a reflection on mortality - Indian Ink Theatre Company

Theatre review: Impermanence Of Ice Cream more vulture mystery, less a reflection on mortality

By: Clement YoungActor Jacob Rajan and Gerry the vulture stand in front of the Mumbai skyline from the rooftop above Mehra’s kulfi shop. This photo is from the rehearsal space before the show.

The Parsi community has a curious tradition for their dead. As part of the transition to the afterlife, corpses are laid on a raised structure called the tower of silence and exposed to the elements and carrion birds in a process of organic decay.

Over three days, souls relive the good or bad deeds they have performed in their lives. It is one of the most sacred rites of Zoroastrianism, touted as the world’s oldest monotheistic religion and among the first historically to preach concepts like heaven, hell, angels and demons.

Indian Ink Theatre Company’s monodrama Paradise Or The Impermanence Of Ice Cream, written by and starring New Zealander playwright-actor Jacob Rajan, is ostensibly about grappling with mortality. But it is really about a mystery plaguing this ancient funerary practice, chasing the question: Where have all the vultures gone?

The Parsi community in Mumbai is in denial at the breakdown of this relied-upon method of recycling. Instead of vultures, it is rats that are now devouring bodies, not that the male-dominated panchayat, or village council, is willing to investigate.

Kutisar (Rajan), a Harvey Norman employee, finds himself tickled awake by a vulture in no man’s land. Though not a Parsi, he once trespassed on a sacred site and seems to be paying the price now.

Shut in on all corners by unbearable loud noises and extreme temperatures, it slowly dawns on the ambling Kutisar –with Rajan employing some entertaining slapstick to start – that he is no longer in the world of the living. Via disco music and involuntary spasms, he is transported back to his first encounter with Parsi girl Meera at a club when he was a bumbling ingenue in Mumbai at 23.

The monologue proceeds along these dual timelines, with Rajan channelling seven characters.

In the afterlife, he takes stock of the choices he made in life – “I will live better!” – while in the other, a gumshoe noir plays out, as his simpler, naive self helps Kulfi store owner Meera unravel the vulture problem, though a moneylender hot on his heels forces him to make some questionable decisions.

Actor Jacob Rajan runs away as Puppeteer Jon Coddington and Gerry the vulture puppet chase him

There are several flaws to this construction. Instead of selecting vignettes from Kutisar’s longer life, Rajan has opted to hang the play on the depth of one relatively small chapter in Kutisar’s youth.

But because Kutisar’s actions are eminently sympathetic and not drastic enough to prompt any outpouring of remorse, the vulture mystery narrative line is so much stronger than Kutisar’s post-mortem regret, leaving the more existential notes feeling a little unearned.

The significance of this missed opportunity with Meera needs some elaboration. And though Rajan is excellent, a climactic scene is foiled by the confusing coming together of four or five characters, which requires clearer delineation or caricature in a one-person, shape-shifting play.

Still, there are many touches of beauty. The opening meet-cute between Kutisar and Meera is enchanting and a great hook, involving a Bollywood-esque, slo-mo chase and a thrilling motorcycle escape.

Nearer the end, the pair look upon a conflagration in wondrous, silent companionship, and of course, a life-size vulture puppet – designed and operated by puppeteer Jon Coddington – is absolutely scene-stealing, never failing to inject a frosty, threatening air to proceedings.

It soars, mounts a supine Kutisar and even dances – little wonder that Rajan has professed jealousy that “when it’s onstage, nobody is looking at me”.

Though less than the sum of its parts, here is a play unapologetic in its nicheness and specificity. Deconstructed, its components are satisfying to watch unfold on stage, its imagery lingering long in memory.