Arts Society & Culture

Collaboration brings ancient Sanskrit play to UGA

Athens, Ga. – The earliest Sanskrit dramas, highly stylized performances of gesture, costume, music and dance, date from the first century. While the tradition of performing Sanskrit plays has all but vanished, the University of Georgia department of theatre and films studies and the Lyndon House Arts Center have collaborated to bring a production of this ancient Indian art form to the UGA campus.

“The Little Clay Cart,” a classical Sanskrit play performed in English, will be presented Nov. 10 at 2:30 p.m. and Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. in the Cellar Theatre. The play will be performed by the Epic Actors’ Workshop, a not-for-profit theatre organization in New Jersey, and directed by Farley Richmond, a professor in the department of theatre and film studies. Both performances are free and open to the public.

Owing to certain features of structure and language, scholars believe that “The Little Clay Cart” was composed no earlier than the first century B.C. and no later than the fourth century A.D. In the prologue of the piece, accolades are showered on its author, King Sudraka, by the stage manager.

Sudraka composed the play in the form of a prakarana, one of the 10 major forms of dramatic composition in ancient India. According to the Natyasastra, the oldest surviving source of dramatic composition, a prakarana may have a hero who is a Brahmin, or aristocracy, a maximum of 10 acts and a story that is invented. “The Little Clay Cart” possesses all of these requirements. It often has been compared with Greek new comedy because of its host of city characters and fast-moving and complicated plot.

“Our production makes use of a wide variety of theatrical conventions found in ancient and modern India as well as those on the tiny island of Bali, an outpost of Hinduism,” said Richmond, who regularly travels to the Indian subcontinent and Asia. “Given the number of characters that make an appearance in the play, we chose to use Topeng masks from Bali to represent most of the minor and a few of the major characters. This keeps the company smaller and allows individual actors to work with many different characters wearing a variety of character masks.”

Lighting for the production is by Richard Dunham, associate professor in the department of theatre and film studies. Costumes are by UGA graduate Cathy Parrott, a Broadway costume designer. The production is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to the Lyndon House Arts Center.

For tickets or more information, contact the Lyndon House Arts Center at 706/613-3623 or Richardson at 706/254-5374.