nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 28, 2010
Anuvab Pal's Chaos Theory is about many things; one of the themes that struck me in particular after I saw Pulse Ensemble Theatre's production of it is how isolating the American Melting Pot can be. The two main characters of Chaos Theory are university professors, both born and raised in India and now living in New York City, where they have important (tenured) positions, affluence, and security. But they're still immigrants, and despite the resources at their command—not the least of which are their intelligence and self-assurance—they can in no way be described as feeling at home in their new country.
The immigrant experience, though, is not the main thread running through this intelligent and clever play. Primarily, Chaos Theory is about the difficulty of making connections—specifically, of completing the circuit that will allow you and your soulmate to stay bonded together forever. Mukesh Singh is a scholar of Shakespeare and Elizabethan literature and Sunita Sen is a socialist whose interests range from English to Indian culture; they meet at the University of Delhi in the mid-1960s and immediately realize they are meant to be friends. We watch the progress of their relationship, which rises and falls with the regularity of a sine curve for a while before settling into something more constant, in a series of scenes that take us backward and forward from the '60s to the new millennium and from India to England, Massachusetts, and NYC. Sunita eventually marries and has children, and Mukesh has a disastrous series of relationships with younger women. But they remain true, in their way, to one another; but will romance ever come?
Mukesh and Sunita are brilliant, articulate people, and their conversations are a joy to listen to, brimming with insight and intelligence. Ranjit Chowdhry, an Indian actor with an impressive list of credits in theatre, television, and film, and Rita Wolf, whom American audiences will probably best remember as the star of My Beautiful Laundrette, deliver lovely nuanced performances as these two individuals. Wolf is particularly adept at showing us Sunita's progression as she matures from idealist to pragmatist and then back again to another kind of idealist. Chowdhry takes us deep within Mukesh's psyche, revealing his insecurities and his pridefulness.
Most of the play takes the form of various discussions between the two, but there is a third character in a few of the later scenes. This is Amit, Sunita's husband, whom we first meet at a book signing and then later get to know as a somewhat self-involved groom and, still later, as a loving father. Tony Mirccandani portrays Amit with a nice blend of warmth and pomposity (note that he leaves the cast on June 4 and will be succeeded by Sorab Wadia).
Alexa Kelly, Pulse's artistic director, has staged the play on a unit set by Zhanna Gurvich that puts contemporary scenes (in Sunita's New York apartment) at stage left and flashback scenes (in a variety of locales) at stage right. This leads to a certain repetitiveness as the action bounces back and forth from one section to the other; transitions to allow the characters to change costumes and then reappear in the other set are jarring in terms of length and frequency; I wished a solution could have been found whereby the actors could stay on stage and keep the piece flowing more smoothly.
But it is nevertheless a pleasure to hear such a literate play performed by such deft and experienced hands. And while the central relationship between the two main characters is the focus of Chaos Theory, Pal covers lots of ground here: not just love and marriage and immigration, but also diversions about music, Indian history and culture, religion, Shakespeare, the Beatles, politics, economics, and life in a big city like New York. It's a rich stew, like the Melting Pot that is its setting, and well worth experiencing.