At the center of the The Mahabharata, one of the Hindu holy books, is The Bhagavad Gita, an epic of enormous proportions. At the core of the Gita is a dialogue between Prince Arjuna and the god Krishna. Arjuna is expected to start a war to defend disputed land, but he hesitates. The god Krishna exhorts him to do his duty as a warrior and, finally, convinces him to attack.
A mythical dialogue is unlikely material for a stage production, but playwright João Falcão has condensed it to an arresting hour-long, two-actor play called Dhrama: The Remarkable Dialogue Between Krishna and Arjuna. It presents the sort of mutual attempt at persuasion that we find in Man and Superman. The production comes from Brazil, presented in English. The production company is Tetris. The superb, masterful actors are Luca Bianchi (Arjuna), and Livia De Bueno (Krishna) playing the god traditionally represented as a man.
The name Dhrama is derived from the Sanskrit word dharma, roughly translated as right behavior.
The stage is bare; the floor is covered with sand. Mr. Bianchi and Ms. De Bueno enter slowly in dim blue light, looking like ghosts in their pale, simple, ivory-colored costumes (designed by Paula Raia) that suggest the design we associate with prints of Indian myths.
The performer’s movements are stylized and straightforward (the director of movement is Carlos Fittante). Sometimes she stands with her legs turned out, her arms pointing in the same direction, one arm across her chest, or sometimes with the familiar pose of thumb touching third finger. His physical life is human but deliberate and precise as well. His gesture when he places his head on her lap is simple and eloquent. In the show’s most stunning image, the actors, one behind the other, create an image of a four-armed god, with the light behind them.
The dialogue is lean and poetic; there are no long speeches that might make the writing pretentious. It challenges our listening skills. We need to pay rapt attention, but we’re never left behind. The Brazilian accents present a problem for the listening audience, with all those L’s becoming W’s, but the obstacle is largely overcome as we become accustomed to them.
The translators weave in some archaic pronouns, sometimes using thou for you. The inconsistency, though, isn’t intrusive, and adds a stately and lyrical quality. And, cleverly, there’s an occasional laugh for a contrast.
Luca DeBiancho, the actor playing Arjuna, has directed the show as well, and splendidly. He’s kept it flowing and unpretentious, neither static nor with excess blocking.
Krishna, of course, prevails in the argument, and persuades Arjuna to wage war even against his cousin. “If you allow others to hurt you, she asks, “are you not hurting yourself?” She reminds him that he is immortal, not his body, and that “Non-action does not exist.”
But the dialogue’s grandest moments are Krishna’s references to him/herself: “I am everywhere–in all that departs, arrives… a god as great as I.”
To the closing, reconciling kiss, Dhrama is resplendent.