Ariana Cook Talks About Undermain’s Upcoming Reading Of Sacrifice By Rabindranath Tagore
On Saturday at 2:00PM, Ariana Cook returns to the DMA (she directed last year’s Color Struck by Zora Neale Hurston) with Undermain’s reading of Sacrifice by Rabindranath Tagore. Stephen Foglia spoke with her about the upcoming project.
Tell me a little bit about the story of Sacrifice.
Oh my gosh. OK. Sacrifice is a very plot-driven play. It’s actually quite confusing. It’s got political intrigue, and young love, and this big battle between the High Priest and the King. It’s so action-packed and mysterious, and the stakes are incredibly high.
It all starts with a young girl whose goat has been chosen for sacrifice. The queen is barren and she has been sacrificing to the goddess Kali in hopes to have a child. It’s getting more and more intense. She’s promised the goddess one hundred goats and like eighty buffalo. And the servants go out and they pick these beasts, and one of them is this girl’s goat, whom she loves dearly. She cries to the King about it.
He takes it as a sign that Kali has come to him through the girl to tell him that she no longer wishes to have blood sacrifice in her temple. He makes the decree that no more blood sacrifice should happen at all. The High Priest defies him. The remainder of the play is about the struggle that they have.
Is that a theme you relate to?
I think we all can relate to it. I mean basically, the theme is the conflict between traditional religion and the society that we build. We see that today, even in a basic way: prayer in schools, for instance. And then what lengths would you go to please your god? Where does that cross a moral line with society?
It’s also about what is true in your heart in religion and what is dead superstition. Are the old ways necessarily the true ways? What in my religion am I not looking at with full eyes?
What made you want to direct this piece?
We had looked at Tagore a couple of years ago. We had read Sacrifice, and we had read The Post Office. I fell in love with the language, actually. Tagore translated it himself. It’s so poetic and beautiful.
What is the director’s role in this kind of reading?
As a director it was a challenge to make sure we had actors who could speak it and make it clear, and then I want to present it in a way that makes the story clear.
Making sure the actors know what they’re saying. Are they being literal or are they being poetic, in Tagore’s script. Helping actors find the stresses in a sentence. They have a really good natural ability to do that, but sometimes if you can say: this word needs a little more punch, or this one needs a little more urgency.
It was also about looking for where people stand and where they sit. How can we add music? How can we make use of transitions? There are natural transitions in the play, but there are also some I decided not to emphasize because it wasn’t necessary. Finessing how we break up the play into bitable bits.
Have you done any research for this production?
One of the first things I did actually was I went to the Dallas Public Library, and I looked up Tagore. I picked up Fireflies, his poetry. It was really helpful. His poems helped me decipher how his melodies function. I talked a lot with Maryam Baig, who’s kind of our cultural consultant on the play. We talked about Hinduism, the Goddess Kali, social strata in India. We talked about the role of religion. We even watched a lot of youtube videos that helped bridge the cultural gap.
Obviously a museum reading has some limitations in terms of what it can do. Do you see any advantages to the form?
Yes, I do. I think especially with a piece like this, which is very language-driven. You get to focus on the beauty of the language. I think a good example is often-times I see a Shakespeare that is all about a concept or trying to hide the language in one way or another, but the advantage of doing this is that all you have is the actor and the text. That’s a very pure beautiful form.