By Holli Harms
Spellbinding, enchanting, horrifying, staggering, epic, of the romance of life, of survival and family and faith, all of this and more is the Life of Pi now mesmerizing audiences on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
Adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti from the novel by Yann Martel this is a MUST-SEE production.
It is the transforming, surprising, jaw-dropping, stunning story of 17-year-old Pi Patel (the incomparable Hiran Abeysekera) and his Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (a gorgeous puppet brought to life by his puppet lead Andrew Wilson and puppeteers). The cargo ship they were sailing on from India to a new life in Canada is destroyed in a storm and now they are the only survivors in a small lifeboat, trapped in the middle of the ocean, with limited water and food.
The story of Pi is narrated by Pi himself to Mr. Okamoto (Daisuke Tsuji) from the Japanese Maritime Department of Transport and along with his Canadian counterpart, Lulu Chen (wonderfully played on the evening I saw it by understudy Celia Mei Rubin) are there to dictate Pi’s story for the Department. They are at the hospital in Mexico where Pi is recovering after being rescued from his 8-month ordeal at sea to try and piece together why the ship Pi was on sank, and why, miraculously, he is the only survivor.
Pi tells his full story of life in India with his family and friends and the animals in their zoo, the journey he and his family and their animals embark on to Canada for a new life, the sinking of the ship, and his survival on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, and Richard Parker, and how all suffered their demise but for Pi and Richard Parker.
This is an incredible story of survival, murder, and resurrection, told through Pi’s belief and faith in God. His faith and his practices of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam keep him going, even when starvation leads to temporary blindness and hallucinations.
All of these amazing aspects of his life play out on the stage! All of them! The stage becomes the ocean, characters float in it and swim in its depths, and over and over again the audience gasps, large group audible gasps, as yet another surprise of remarkable magical staging turns our understanding of reality, of gravity and what is solid and what is not, on its head.
The cast is superb. They are not only wonderful performers but also remarkable athletes. This amazing night at the theater stands mostly on the shoulders of Abeysekera whose Pi is funny and brave, lovable, kind, and beautifully caring. He is the antihero thrown into the most unbelievable of horrors and he survives with smarts and gumption, determination, and faith. His love and respect for all life, as part of his Hindu faith, is stunning to witness. He is a vegetarian and proposes that again and again. “Vegetarianism is a dietary ideal among many Hindus, based on the concept of ahimsa—non-violence and compassion towards all beings,” is also how he shows respect for all religions and peoples of his homeland. Pi carries compassion for all he encounters and is shocked and surprised at the hatred and lack of compassion by his fellow humans when he comes to view such atrocities.
The directing, puppet design, construction, puppeteers, lighting, set design, and costumes are excellent and all take risks that pay off, sharpen and intensify the production.
Go and see this remarkable piece of theater. And note there is not a bad seat in the house. Go and take a loved one. You will want to find a place to sit and talk about it afterward, or better yet, walk a bit and relive your experience, the magical world of the production, the gorgeous beauty of humanity, and the ferocious terror of man. This will be a life moment you shared together and will remember long after.
The Life of Pi based on the novel by Yann Martel, adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti, directed by Max Webster
With: Hiran Abeysekera, Adi Dixit, Brian Thomas Abraham, Rajesh Bose, Avery Glymph, Mahira Kakkar, Kirstin Louie, Salma Qurnain, Sathya Sridharan, Daisuke Tsuji, Sonya Venugopal, Fred Davis, Scarlet Wilderink, Nikki Calonge, Rowan Ian Seamus Magee, Jonathan David Martin, Betsy Rosen, Celia Mei Rubin, and Andrew Wilson as Royal Bengal tiger “Richard Parker.”
Rounding out the company in the ensemble are Mahnaz Damania, Jon Hoche, Usman Ali Mughal, Uma Paranjpe. David Shih serves as the Pi alternate.
Creative Team: Director Max Webster, costume designer Tim Hatley, puppet and movement director Finn Caldwell, puppet designers Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell, Video designer Andrzej Goulding (Eureka Day), Lighting designer Tim Lutkin, and Sound Designer Carolyn Downing. Original music is by Andrew T Mackay and dramaturgy is by Jack Bradley.
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
SEVENTEEN Broadway Debuts for Life of Pi Note: Writer Talaura Harms has no relation to this writer but does have a great last name.