An arranged Indian marriage and four men held captive by a group of women — what do these two plots have in common? For one, they both bring up issues of racism and gender inequality. And they also are both plays currently being put on by UC Santa Cruz’s own Rainbow Theater.
The theater troupe illustrates the connections between cultures in the two plays “First Seed” and “Captivated.” Creative and well produced, these shows address issues of sexism and ethnicity among a wide range of people, leaving audiences with a new perspective.
“First Seed,” directed and written by UCSC and Rainbow Theater alumnus Aman Gohal, tells the story of a contemporary Indian family and the arranged marriage of their eldest daughter. The play draws contrasts among the varying cultural identities of the family’s three sisters. For example, the eldest sister wears the traditional Indian caftans and scarves, while the youngest sister wears short dresses and caked-on makeup. The eldest sister grapples with having an arranged marriage with a wealthy Indian doctor, who has her parents approval but isn’t quite a perfect match for her.
Differing expectations of cultural gender roles, chauvinistic jokes and stereotypical bread-winning husbands all have a part in this play, which focuses on domestic violence toward women and dueling cultures.
While the message in “First Seed” is very clear, it often feels overbearing. Yes, the repeated quarrels and clashing personalities of the sisters effectively show the struggles of immigrant cultures, but in a way that weakens the effect with every repetition. Similarly, although the intense action and dialogue keep the audience captivated through about an hour and 20 minutes of drama, the piece at times lacked subtlety.
Regardless, Gohal succeeds in getting his audience to take a deeper look at domestic abuse, ethnic differences and sexism.
“Captivated,” the second show, written by Darryl Davis, addresses gender expectations between men and women in an extreme setting: a laboratory with four cages, each cage with its own captive human male. The men are held captive by three female scientists who perform “experiments” on them.
The main character is a black man who represents the racial contrast between himself, the other captives and the scientists. He is confused as to where he is or what is going on.
The audience shares the captive’s confusion as to what the imprisonment and experiments mean. It might be frustrating at times for the viewer to be asked to go along with the play without having reference points for the plot. But as issues rise between the captives and experimenters, it becomes clear the play centers around exploring male privilege.
In one scene, the black experimenter, who is wearing tight black pants and a matching tank top, lets the main character out of his cage. Moments later, the freed man starts to make offensive comments about the experimenter’s body, objectifying her, giving her pet names and even trying to cop a feel. The experimenter turns on him in an instant, throwing the man on the ground.
“Captivated” is most effective because it takes a look at commonplace social conflicts in an unrealistic and jarring setting, forcing the audience to reevaluate their own prejudices. Though it was difficult to follow at certain points, Davis without a doubt conveys a strong message to the audience, and the confusion only added to that strength.