The Art of Gaman, Theatre503

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by Laura Kressly

Tomomi stands on the prow of a ship with arms flung open, ready to embrace a new life as a Hollywood actress. There’s something of Kate Winslet in Titanic about her unfaltering determination and hope – and that seminal pose, of course. When an older man disturbs her quiet reflection on the fish feeding below the water’s surface and her need for acting compared to their need for water, her destiny is forever altered.

Dipika Guha chronicles the life of a woman with big dreams lumbered with a world determined to break her. Tomomi is a fighter, but one with quiet acceptance rather than radical rejection of the status quo. She makes the choices she does out of self-preservation against bigger forces – debt, internment camps, homelessness – because she doesn’t have the privilege of a financial and familial support system. It’s frustrating to watch her give in so frequently and never try to pursue her dreams, but as a vulnerable person in a place that is so unforgiving, it’s understandable – particularly to those of us who have also had to forgo fantastical dreams in the name of practicality.

The familiarity of her journey doesn’t make it un-extraordinary, though. She lives a life of remarkable change and discovery, owing her personal journey to ‘gaman’ – ‘to suffer beautifully’. She never apologises for the choices she makes, whether it be to go to New York to marry a man she never met, or to giving away all of her money to struggling young women, though she still clings to the feeling that she belongs on stage and screen. Her journey is quietly moving and emblematic of the way women move through the world making compromises.

There are huge leaps through time and most narratives are abandoned or started part-way though, giving the script a feeling of choppy incompletion. What happened to her husband, or her lover, or her parents? The people that influence her live so drastically are discarded too easily, and most are sorely underwritten.

The moments of pleasure are carefully balanced against the moments less satisfying, making this a difficult play to reconcile with. Though this too is more like real life than not.

The Art of Gaman runs through 27 October.

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