I remember the first time I read Kalidasa’s “Shakuntala,” and how the story of this ancient play gripped me immediately. It begins with a fairytale encounter between a king and the beautiful daughter of a hermit, but as in so many fairytales, the fates work against them. Having professed their eternal love, they are drawn apart with the hope and promise of being reunited soon. But when they finally meet again at the palace, the king does not remember his bride.
Every time that I recount this story, when I get to this detail, the person hearing it for the first time groans—literally, immediately, and viscerally groans. What can be a greater blow to the heart than not being remembered by one we love?
This story, and the reaction of those to whom I tell it, make me feel it is a story we need to hold in our collective memory, and it deserves another telling.
Few things can kill the spirit as completely as being forgotten, being exiled from the minds of others. What we find important in our lives we constantly call to memory, and the retelling of our past is often constitutive of our present. Yet day after day, in politics and business, in relationships and friendships, we see irresponsibility, corruption, complicit action and personal commitments brushed aside under the gloss of conveniently “not remembering.”
Over the period of time that we as a company have been working with this text, we realize that it is a rich tapestry of emotion, symbols, and lessons about love, life, hope, honor, longing, and above all, mindfulness. Trying to understand this story in its original context, and then communicate it to a contemporary audience is an exciting challenge in which we are learning something new every day.
The cultural fabric of our adaptation, altering the original text only to make the author’s intention more accessible to an audience different than his own, has involved our engaging and learning from other disciplines as well. Working with other artists, Bharatanatyam master Saju George, and Jazz musician Rudresh Mahanthappa gives us the necessary artistic bridges we need to unite ancient and modern, eastern and western, traditional and contemporary. Bringing this work back to the stage provides the Magis Theatre Company with a lavish opportunity to engage some of the most beautiful traditions of the past and some of the most exciting innovations of the present.
It is with great gratitude that we present this piece at La MaMa’s Annex, newly renamed “the Ellen Stewart Theatre.” I dedicate this piece to Ellen, and am honored that my own company, Magis, has been welcomed into this “second home” of mine. Over the past fourteen years I have had the great privilege of working closely with MaMa, and have travelled as a member of Ellen’s Great Jones Repertory Company half-way across the world and back, thankfully bringing home many of the wonders that Ellen’s unique vision has imparted on me and on anyone lucky enough to have worked with her. It is my sincerest hope that “Shakuntala and the Ring of Recognition” brings our audiences more deeply into Ellen’s guiding principle: we are all one world, a world of shared joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams.
Artistic Director, Magis Theatre Company