There will always exist those singular productions that shatter the walls of an audiences’ mind and explode our ideas of the purpose of theater. Writer/director Yael Farber’s Nirbhaya is one such production.
The word powerhouse comes to mind, but I hesitate to use it; it simply does not capture the depth and sheer, shocking immensity of this piece. Based on the personal experiences of its cast and a single, world-shaking act of violence, Nirbhaya takes an unflinching and unyielding look at the undeniable presence of violence against women.
The one act play sources its central drive from the act of gang-rape inflicted on Jyoti Singh Pandey, who was hospitalized and died several weeks later after a struggle to live and communicate. As news of the attack spread, thousands of New Delhi women and men flooded the streets, protesting a system and a culture that would allow such acts. Because Indian press will not publicize rape victims’ names, the growing crowds named their symbolic leader Nirbhaya, meaning “fearless” in Hindi.
The play does not simply document and bear witness to this event. Instead, inspired by those protests, the playwright has held up to the light other women’s stories of violence. The resulting message: silence is no longer an option. Shame is no longer acceptable. In a country that has for centuries encouraged the blaming of assault victims, something loud, powerful, and unstoppable has risen.
Farber’s poetic words and direction are at once invigorating, heartbreaking, and gut-wrenching. Each tale is given a voice, finally harmonizing in righteousness. The result is a contained whirlwind of furious energy.
This was not an easy play to experience or think about in hindsight. With each passing moment, the truth and sheer emotion rushing from the limbs of the performers reminded me of Nirbhaya‘s significance and message. We must witness the violence, if only that we may be spurred to change our world by speaking, by sharing, and by transforming our own way of living each day.
Please check out Breakthrough and the Culture Project and add your voice to the chorus. Keep an eye out for this internationally touring production. It has already sold out in box offices across several continents. This was inspirational.