Review of “Bhopal”

Shunya 1in

The cast: Arnav Sunny Sinha, Sanjay Navin Mediwala, Jason Zinn, Charanya R Iyengar, Prateek Karkal, Bhageshri Gulvady Karkal (front), Deeba Ashraf, Karthik Chander, Dianne K Webb, Laura Schlecht and Sam Stengler.
Photo: Navin Mediwala

HOUSTON: In a scene towards the beginning of Rahul Varma’s “Bhopal,” Devraj Sarthi, an ambitious and eager employee of Karbide International, claims to his boss Warren Anderson, that the pesticide he wants to produce in India “will touch many lives.” The audience know the dark and terrible implications of this line, but unfortunately, Sarthi does not.

Varma’s play is based on the gas leak tragedy caused by Union Carbide thirty years ago and brought to Houston by Shunya Theatre. Although we in the audience are privy to the catastrophe that is about to occur, we are also invested in the characters presented to us. And that is what propels the play forward – the veritable bouquet of characters that Varma gives us: from the street-smart slum dweller, to the cunning and opportunistic politician.

Undeniably, this is heavy material for audiences to face. But it could also not have arrived at a better time. December 2014 marks the Bhopal gas tragedy’s thirty year anniversary. Industrial disasters like this are not new nor unknown to us who have seen the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, or the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or the explosion of the West fertilizer company near Waco, Texas. The leak in Bhopal killed thousands and injured many more, and its effects still have not stopped harming the residents of the city. Participating in the viewing of this play ensures that we don’t forget how calamitous this accident was and also reminds us that there was a significant human aspect that time tends to erase from such events.

Shunya Theatre’s production brings back many familiar faces like Deeba Ashraf who plays Izzat, Karthik Chander as Devraj Sarthi, and Prateek Karkal as Jaganlal the politician. There are also many new faces that leave their impressions on the audience’s mind, namely Charanya Ravikumar as Madiha, am Sam Stengler as Warren Anderson, Laura Schlecht as Dr. Sonya Labonte and Brandon Hobratschk as Sauvé Pascal. Director Dianne K Webb does a magnificent job in creating a tense atmosphere that is rarely, but thankfully, broken with humor that we are inevitably forced to see in tragic circumstances.

Audiences have another weekend to see “Bhopal” at Spring Street Studio 101, 1824 Spring Street, 77007, from Thursday to Saturday at 8:00 pm, November 20 through 22 and at 3:00 pm, Sunday, Nov. 23.