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Lights of Broadway: Life of Pi (2023)




Synopsis: After a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with four other survivors – a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. Time is against them, nature is harsh, and who will survive?


Review:

Stranded on a lifeboat for 227 days sounds like a horrifying experience, let alone with a fully grown Bengal tiger. Life of Pi tells the story of Pi and how he managed to survive on a lifeboat with the tiger named Richard Parker until the two inevitably washed up on shore. The story starts with Pi in Mexico recovering from his harrowing ordeal while the Canadian and Japanese governments arrive to hear his story and further their investigation into the incident that transpired. Along the way, we learn about the true nature of humanity alongside the power of belief and spirituality.

The Life of Pi is based on Yann Mattel’s novel of the same name and has been adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti. Ms. Chakrabarti beautifully adapts the source material to keep the play engaging and thought-provoking. Her ability to keep pace with her writing and not get bogged down with too much time spent adrift at sea helps propel the story along rather than have it grind to a complete and total stop. Coupled with direction by Max Webster, the play was engaging from start to finish with little room to find boredom in the journey the audience was being taken on.


True stand out in performance is that of Pi himself portrayed by Hiran Abeysekera. Mr. Abeysekera provides the wide range needed for the role and does so effortlessly to help drive the point of the show. Throughout the story being told he was entirely committed to the role and the tale being told. Mr. Abeysekera was not afraid to dig into the grit and produce a wide range of emotions that compelled the audience to root for his triumph against the sea and Richard Parker.


On the technical side of the house, the simplistic scenic design of Tim Hatley felt innovative and unique. Rather than wheel then frequently wheel the boat on and off as it jumps from narrative to present, the ship grew out from the stage, helping to keep the story’s momentum.


With all that being said, one of the most important questions to answer was, “How do you play with an adult Bengal tiger?” In enters puppet designers, Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell. The usage of full-sized puppets to feature the needed tiger, zebra, orangutan, and hyena was the real selling point of this story. The puppetry & movement direction by Finn Caldwell allowed the audience to truly transcend reality and feel like these animals were on stage interacting with each other and Pi.


Life of Pi is a story that feels like it shouldn’t work onstage. The need for animals is difficult enough, but to make 1 human on a boat for most of the show feel compelling can be tough to capture the audience. However, with this adaptation, the stars truly did align to make this a reality. Life of Pi showcases truly some of the very best that theatre magic has to offer.


Overall, Life of Pi earns itself a 4.5 out of 5 stars.



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