- Yamaduta's assistants in the "The Priest and the Prostitute."
Lilly Hall Studio Theater 168 at Butler University; through Nov. 13
This show is the reason why it's good to live in a college town, or at least a town with colleges. First off, the students in the Butler theater department are getting the rare opportunity to learn theater of other cultures by studying under Indian director Kunju Vasudevan, in town at Butler as part of the newly-launched Visiting International Theatre Artist program. But then us non-students get to see the fruit of their labors — a hugely-entertaining, colorful, rhythmic re-working of a Sanskrit farce that borrows core elements from the Indian dance-drama tradition of Kathakali.
Vasudevan is careful to note that The Priest and the Prostitute isn't exactly authentic; after all, he couldn't teach a tradition it takes years to master during his approximately two months at Butler. But the untrained eye wouldn't necessarily know it: the drumming, both by students and three visiting artists, is, at turns, loud, intense and all-encompassing (a lengthy, hypnotic drumming prelude helped to usher the crowd into a different mindspace), and then light and sensitive; the performances, which make use of mime-like hand gestures used in Kathakali, are across-the-board compelling and funny; the costumes — including one in full-on Kathakali style — are bright and playful.
The play, a yarn about a yogi and his hungry, unabashed student, a concubine and, ultimately, a soul transplant, can be readily mined for historical convergences: the yogi might be compared to righteous ascetics of all ages, from monks to hippies; a character's gender change late in the play partakes of a long history of female impersonation. Logan Moore is excellent as The Priest, at turns stentorian and flighty.
Butler continues to rival any professional companies in town; between this and last year's Marat/Sade-with-masks production of Woyzeck, it's a place for all to learn about the world's theater traditions via risk-taking, energetic, absolutely-essential productions. A can't-miss; and judging by the near sell-out crowd, one you might miss if you don't buy tickets soon. Indeed, the Nov. 10 performance is sold out, leaving you Nov. 11 at 8 p.m., and Nov. 12 and 13 at 2 p.m.