Lights off, music starts. The play is about to begin. You must be expecting an adaptation, not the original, for it was written decades ago in an entirely different milieu. Soon you realize that 1128-il Crime 27 (Crime No: 27 in 1128) written by C.J. Thomas is so contemporary in its style and substance that the text hardly offers any room for changes even at the hands of a seasoned academic-theater person like Dr V.C. Harris.
The play, apparently the first in Malayalam to question the concept of capital punishment and one of the early texts that experimented with meta-theater, was given a fresh lease of on-stage life by School of Letters, Mahathma Gandhi University at CMS College, Kottayam, on the New Year's day.
The play deals with an age-old question – of the fragile human lives shackled by rigid laws. It poses several questions on the meaning or rather meaninglessness of the way justice is being sought and delivered. It also tries to solve the complex puzzle wherein one finds it difficult to differentiate between the culprit and the victim.
The play is mainly set in a courtroom where a murder trial takes place. It is almost sure that the accused will have to go to the gallows, though there aren't any substantial evidence against him. Not even the body of the victim has been found. The play progresses along with arguments by both the sides, sometimes heated and sometimes dull. After some episodes portraying the anxieties and dilemmas of the other characters, including three journalists and the family of the accused, the play ends with some unexpected twists. By the climax, the judge and the lawyers turn the under-trials and an ordinary woman, the judge.
The play is notable for its brilliant use of meta-theater techniques. Not only the audience, but the characters are also repeatedly told that they are in a drama. The interludes featuring a Guru, the playwright, and his sishya, a journalist, offer moments of mirth laced with philosophical questions on life and death.
The play rides on satire and evokes abundance of black humor. The only scene where it goes a bit emotional is when the murder accused narrates his version of the crime in a neatly delivered soliloquy.
The contemporariness of the script is the pillar of the play. With a bunch of novices, Harris has managed to arrange a neat performance without compromising much on any aspect of the play. As suitable for most of the contemporary performances, the play relies on minimalism when it comes to properties, make up and lighting. Music functions as the perfect medium of transition between scenes.
The play was staged as part of the G. Sankarappillai commemoration; the perfect way to remember the late master of Malayalam theater. And, special thanks to School of Letters for setting the stage to revive the works of C.J. Thomas, the man who shared the agonies of all ages and attempted to experiment with his medium unlike many of his contemporaries.