Lakshmi Narayanan Apts.
Flat 4, 12th Cross Road,
Giri Nagar, Kandavanthra
Ernakulam, Kerala 682020
Playwright: William Shephard, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Charu Narayanan, email@example.com
Director: Terry John Converse, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shadow Puppetry: Rajeev Pulavar,
Art Director: Navin Sebastian,
Will Shephard’s In Search of Layla, written specifically for Phoenix World Theatre, is a controversial spin on the classic middle eastern tale of Layla and Manjun. Versions of the story have spread across southeast Asia and beyond, and it has been presented in many Middle Eastern and sub-continental cultures— Muslim, Sufi, Hindu, and secular. Star-crossed lovers Layla and Majnun are central characters in Persian and Arabian folklore and the subject of the first Muslim opera written more than a century ago.
The ill-fated lovers Layla and Majnun are often compared to Romeo and Juliet, although their story in oral tradition predates Shakespeare's play by more than a thousand years. Layla and Majnun have been celebrated in tales by Turks, Arabs, Persians, Indians, Pakistanis, and Afghans. Known in many poetic renditions, their story also has inspired works of visual art, literature, cinema, and music. The story of Layla and Majnun originated in the middle east centuries ago, but has since become part of India’s popular culture as well.
Phoenix World Theatre’s In Search of Layla is the legendary tale of the star-crossed lovers told like never before. The play is meant to be performed as an allegory, though it deals with controversial social and cultural issues pertinent to India in the process. Our production’s uniqueness is partly due to the fact that it will be a fascinating mix of shadow puppetry with live action. Shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling that uses flat articulated cut figures (shadow puppets) which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen. Shadow puppets have been a part of ancient Indian culture; typically the puppets are translucent, multi-colored leather figures four to five feet tall, and feature one or two articulated arms.
In Search of Layla is based on the relationship between the star crossed lovers, Layla and Majnun, but is a radical departure from the traditional love story. The central character is Layla, and the central conflict in the play involves her search for herself - her place in life, and the meaning of her existence. In previous versions of the story, Majnun (meaning “mad for love”), not Layla, has always been the central protagonist. Given that the story originated in the male dominated culture of the middle east, it's not surprising that Majnun, not Layla, has always been the focus of interest. In our production, however, the entire story is seen through the eyes of Layla. Her reflections, fears, and strategies for surviving become the driving force of Will Shepherd's play. In the original story, Majnun spent all of his time alone, surrounded only by the animals of the wilderness that would gather around him and protect him during the long desert nights. In Will Shephard's play, however, it is Layla, not Majnun who interacts with forest animals. While few would say that the patriarchal point of view in the classical versions are irrelevant, Will Shephard’s play provides us with a subjective, down the rabbit-hole life of its own, as we are forced to fall into the disorienting, phantasmagoric, inner world of a woman who refuses to be marginalized by an arranged marriage.
The premise of our production focuses on a single question:
What happens when a modern Muslim girl.
soon to be aproaching the anxiety of her
own upcoming arranged marriage, reads
to herself the traditional story of
Layla and Majnun?
Our production begins with a young woman reading out loud to herself the traditional tale of Layla and Majnun, and in a dramatic sleight of hand the young woman imagines herself as Layla. Triggered by the traditional story, the young girl totally identifies with the legendary Layla, and like Layla, she is very much against the idea of an arranged marriage. The young woman and Layla become kindred souls in their struggle against arranged marriage, and in this sense they become one and the same. Channeling into Layla's inner thoughts, the young woman immediately surrenders to her own private, inner dreamscape. The young woman’s courage to connect with her inner life—her memory, dreams, and reflections— is ultimately her only hope for salvation.