Vinay Pathak sparkles in brilliant play ‘Nothing Like Lear’ staged in Maryland

Directed by Rajat Kapoor.

By Vikrum Mathur

ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND: To do a play featuring only a single character is a big risk. For the actor, the challenge lies in not only developing the character in a manner which holds the audience’s attention, but also keeping it true to the script.

Poster of Nothing like Lear
Poster of Nothing like Lear

Similarly for the writer and director, the challenge lies in keeping the pace and proceedings interesting and enrapturing. For me as a viewer, the novelty of the format and performance in Nothing Like Lear, written and directed by Rajat Kapoor, starring Vinay Pathak, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater, Rockville, Maryland, kept me glued to the stage for the entire 90 minutes duration.

Nothing Like Lear is an interesting amalgamation of themes from Shakespeare’s King Lear, applied to a modern context and character. Through the play, the audience gets an insight into a wide range of emotions falling within the layers that come with happiness and sadness. In essence, the play is an exploration of the depths that these range of emotions produce in the character of a human being.

The main character (Vinay Pathak) describes personal and emotional incidents in his life which shape the viewpoint of his character. The play represents an action that perhaps many of us would like to do at various stages – pour our hearts out to people whom we are unattached to but can understand why we feel the way we do. It is these ideas, from my perception, that form the meaning behind the play.

Style wise, the integration of some improv and audience engagement was something that I have rarely seen in South Asian plays brought to the area, and I always feel that an audience sits up when such a thing happens. Psychologically, an audience feels more involved with such engagement and builds a somewhat personal connect with the actor on stage. This was something I felt was a very interesting choice.

Even more fascinating was the lighting in the play. For the first time, I took notice of how lights and shadows cast by the lights evoke the mood of a scene with panache if done correctly. The fact that the play did not have a set and used lighting as the “mood setter”, was a technical masterstroke because it is not garish and allows audience to focus on the singular character without distraction. The lighting works on your mind and subconscious. Only a skilled director would recognize the importance of this technique.

Vinay Pathak is an excellent performer. His handling of the emotional transitions, which can be a challenge for any actor, is fluid. He is such a likable personality, that I found myself truly sad in the moments of the play that call for melancholic emotions. Conversely, when he was happy, I was happy. He is such a lovable actor, it’s impossible to not be riveted when he speaks or emotes. The fact that he plays a common man with similar insecurities as most of us helps build our relationship with him.

As a director and writer, Rajat Kapoor has created a piece of theater that is unique for the audiences in the DC area. Very rarely have one man shows ever been done here, and secondly, have they held such a roller coaster of emotions. His direction, technical knowledge, and flow of the script are truly the hallmark of a man who understands his craft and how to bring the best out of not only the leading performer, but of the environment the play creates.

The play was hosted by Adarsh Gupta, the president of Natya Bharati.

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