Discuss the Theatrical Device of One Actor for Multiple Roles and Its Thematic Relevance in the Play Halfway House.

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‘Aadhe Adhure’ or ‘Halfway House’ has often been described as a cross between Naturalist Theatre and Theatre of the Absurd. Interestingly, both these elements actually undercut each other as theatrical movements and are said to have polarized western theatre. Naturalism argues for heredity and a global perspective on human behavior, which is said to develop out of the social environment in which a particular individual lives. On the contrary, Absurdism believes that there are no solutions to the mysteries of existence because ultimately man is alone, forced to perform repetitive actions in a world without meaning.

This play has many elements of Naturalist theatre, including a linear movement, a limited time span, an in-depth psychological characterization and a defined beginning, middle and end. However, the opening line-- “Once again, the same thing all over again…” firmly typecasts it as a part of Absurdist theatre, as from the start itself there is a hint at circularity of events and a hopelessness and banality defined by the repetition of the word ‘again’ in the short sentence.

Mohan Rakesh borrowed a common device from the theatre of the Absurd and in ‘Aadhe Adhure’, for the first time in Indian theatre the same actor was used to play five characters. According to Rakesh, “The woman is the central character and I want the four men to be played by the same actor. What I want to indicate by that is that it’s not the individual who’s responsible for his situation, for he would have made the same choice no matter what, regardless of the situation. Any choice anyone makes has a certain irony in it, for things turn out the same regardless of the choice.”

Though it was passed off by some critics as a gimmick employed by the playwright, its thematic relevance came to the fore when Rajinder Nath, contrary to his own views on the importance of the technique, directed the play using five different actors for the roles. The conclusion was felt to be severely lacking as the notion of inherent ‘similarity’ in all the men which underlines the climax of the play failed to have the same impact. Interestingly, though Savitri implies that it is beneath their appearance, that this ‘same man’ exists, the implication is only forceful for the audience because of the simultaneous visual impact of one man playing different roles.

According to Nath himself it was a powerful theatrical device “to show how according to one’s convenience the same man can put on different masks depending on the situation in which he is placed”.

That the authorial view corroborates with this statement is clear from the prologue where the ‘Man in the black suit’ equates identity with fluidity and calls himself undefined. Each character, given a certain set of circumstances, can occupy the place of another. This also follows the assumption that there is no real development or evolution of character; the character at the beginning of the play will not be shaped differently by the situation, enforcing the idea of a universality of experience, that “things turning out the same regardless of choice”.

The prologue defines the play as ‘amorphous’. The audience is told that there is a bit of each character in all of them. Those watching the play and even those outside the theatre. The characters are said to be people “you bump into by chance in the street” stressing the alienation of urban crowd from one another as the source of difference as well as similarity, since they are all nameless, faceless people who can easily get lost in a crowd comprising of the same. Therefore, one man can play five characters because they are, in essence, the same man. This likeness is reiterated by the naming of the characters in their dialogues, not individually, but rather as First Man, Second Man, etc. According to the Hindi version of the play, the Man in the Black Suit “has a look of civility with a touch of cynicism”; the face of the First man “expresses the helpless...
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