Essay by Marlon Jiménez Oviedo, Student at Lewis & Clark College/Boom Arts Intern
The artistic success and high audience engagement of Free Outgoing by Anupama Chandrasekhar validated Boom Arts' mission of bringing international theatre that speaks to and attracts diverse Portland audiences. Brilliantly directed by LA-based theatre artist Snehal Desai, the piece challenges clear distinctions between universal vs. local, and private vs. public. The play places the action in the living room of a three-person household in Chennai, India, but the themes of accessibility to digital information, adolescent sexuality and parenthood are issues most societies grapple with.
In this small orange living room, designed by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, we witness how societal norms and personal morals collide as Malini tries to ‘salvage’ the lives she and her children have so diligently fought for. The non-forgiving society is represented by the school principal, the neighbors, the media and the crowds of people that invade Malini’s colony. Their presence and condemnation were palpable in the Studio Theatre of Lincoln Hall, due in great part to the stellar cast who made it impossible for the audience not to feel the extenuating pressure that Malini and Sharan experience throughout the play.
The main role (Malini) was played by Anna Khaja, whose performance can only be characterized as a feat. During the performance, Ms. Khaja carries all the weight of her children and of being a widow in a society that does not economize on ways to shame her daughters’ sexual act, while thousands of people continue to download the evidence in the form of a video. In one of the most striking moments, we see the shadow of Malini behind orange fabric as she pounds on the door of her daughter’s room, begging her to come out if she wants to do one thing right in her whole life. The audience, however, does not ever see her daughter (Deepa).
On the day I saw the performance, post-show guest speaker Priya Kapoor, Associate Professor of International Studies at Portland State University, discussed Deepa’s absence onstage as a clear symbol of how the victims of situations like the one depicted in the play are often the ones without a voice. Deepa does not get a chance to speak for herself, which is direct commentary on how girls’ and women’s bodies and sexuality continue to be seen and talked about through misogynist ideals. Boom Arts’ post-show discussions have become a hallmark of our productions, and they amplify our impact by offering audiences the chance to process and meaningfully discuss crucial issues in our society.
As we welcomed audience members on the third and fourth nights, we had a person come to ask if we still had tickets available, because a friend had told them that Free Outgoing was a must see. Fortunately, Boom Arts continues to present theatre that Portlanders should be excited to watch!