Written and directed by Yael Farber
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
In the words of Theatre Critic Charles Spencer, “there are moments in my line of work when criticism seems impertinent.” The Culture Project’s Nirbhaya seems such an occasion. The show consists of six Indian women recounting their personal stories of sexual abuse in response to the 2012 gang-rape murder of the medical student in Delhi. (Nicknamed ‘Nirbhaya’ or ‘Fearless One’ by the media) The event sparked massive protest and paradigm shift throughout the nation.
Make no mistake, the stories, and women who recount them, are real. They relate their stories of agony as writer/director Yael Farber (Mies Julie) suggests the action through ritualized inference around them. ‘Acting’ is exiled from Nirbhaya, save for two performers; one playing an angelic image of Nirbhaya and the other portraying the various male characters.
Some of the women are not as confident onstage, but this earnest element leads to a powerful punch. What follows are tales of monumental endurance, and of cruel, cowardly men protected by a culture of silence. The stories invoke every shade of nausea, proving that truth is even more appalling than anything an imagination can concoct.
Two questions nip at the performance from the get go, questions that must be asked before the mounting of any production: “Why Here?” and “Why Now?” Indian custom is inseparably woven into each narrative (as of course it should be), but it’s a bit like seeing Ariel Castro onstage in Delhi. Indeed, the most chilling confession came from a Canadian woman raped in her apartment; not because it was more horrific than the others, but because it cut so much closer to home.
If anything, Nirbhaya serves as a call for American artists to make such a profound statement themselves. Thankfully, artists like Eve Ensler (Emotional Creature), Cecilia Copeland, (“R” Culture) Diana Oh (Lingerie Play), and so many others are already carrying the torch. As we here in The States fight valiantly against rape culture, it’s good to know the rest of the world is fighting alongside us.