A Theater Visionary ‘Nourished by the World’

A Theater Visionary ‘Nourished by the World’


“It’s so maddening,” she said. “I mean, one reads, one sees, one is nourished by the world. Are they going to tell me that I’m not going to be nourished by India or Japan? Well, let them go to hell.” Hearing her own vehemence, she laughed, but her pique didn’t dissipate. “The people who want me not to look, not to hear, not to admire — that means they don’t want me to love. Well, I’m not listening to that rubbish.”

Exasperated, she added, “Ça, c’est bêtise.” Foolishness, that is.

Over a Meal

At the Armory, if the production does go on, the Théâtre du Soleil will invite the audience to arrive an hour before the performance for an Indian meal. Sitting down to eat together is part of the experience at the Cartoucherie, where the cavernous hall that first greets the audience is decorated to complement each production.

Palani Murugan, who came from India to help teach a portion of the play, said that for “A Room in India,” the hall has taken on the look of a traditional open-air Terukkuttu festival. Strung with tiny lights and star-shaped lanterns, the room is hung with banners that in French are called fresques lumineuses — luminous frescoes: colorful images picked out in dots of light on a black background.

Photo

Ms. Mnouchkine during a company lunch break at the Cartoucherie.

Credit
Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

When the company broke for lunch after a morning of physical and vocal training onstage, they ate together at large round tables beneath the frescoes. The day’s menu was Asian — samosas, fried spring rolls and noodles, beautifully prepared and in generous portions (the same amount for each person; it’s a rule), with clementines for dessert. At Ms. Mnouchkine’s table, a wheel of cheese with a mottled rind appeared, a gift from a supporter.

A couple of seats away, Elaine Meric, the company member overseeing the New York trip, worried aloud about the visas for the three actors, whom the company has known since 2005, when they met in Kabul. What’s unsettling, she said, is the silence from the American consulate and the State Department, which in past years were responsive.

“It is awful; awful pressure,” said Ms. Meric, who feared that the decision might not arrive until after opening night. “I have worked for the theater for 15 years, and it is the first time we have such a situation.”

For its part, the Armory has had lawyers trying for several months to secure the visas, which came quickly for the 62 others traveling with the production. Rebecca Robertson, the Armory’s founding president and executive producer, said on Monday that it was working through elected officials and “continuing to apply pressure on all fronts,” yet the obstacle to approval remained unclear.

On Wednesday evening, after the print version of this story had gone to press, Ms. Robertson e-mailed with an update: All three visas had been approved. The cloud over the production had vanished.

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