Shayok Misha Chowdhury's bilingual play Public Obscenities has set a New York City return. The work will play Brooklyn's Polonsky Shakespeare Center January 17-February 18, 2024.
Public Obscenities is written and directed by Chowdhury, and is performed in Bangla and English. The work had its world premiere at Soho Rep in spring 2023, and is currently running at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where it will continue through December 23. Performances from January 17-21 are part of the 2024 Under the Radar Festival.
Returning to the cast from the world premiere are Tashnuva Anan as Shou, Debashis Roy Chowdhury as Pishe, Abrar Haque as Choton, Golam Sarwar Harun as Jitesh, Gargi Mukherjee as Pishimoni, NaFis as Sebanti, and Jakeem Dante Powell as Raheem. Rounding out the company are understudies Shreyo Banerjee, Rajib Bhattacharya, Jonathan Nathaniel Dingle-El, Komolika, and Mita Paul. Casting is by Stephanie Yankwitt.
The play follows Ph.D. student Choton, who visits family in Kolkata on a research trip with his Black American boyfriend Raheem. Choton loves translating between Bangla and English, interviewing queer locals, and showing Raheem his world, but Raheem begins to notice things Choton can't.
“In Bangla, we don’t just say ‘uncle,’" Chowdhury says in a statement on the play's genesis. "We have a word for every different kind of uncle. Father’s older brother is Jetha. Father’s younger brother is Kaka. Mother’s brother is Mama. In 1985, my Mama—my mother’s only brother—had a dream. In his dream, Mama was in a movie theatre, watching a movie. And he described the movie to me in meticulous detail. Shot for shot. As if he wanted me to go make the movie: me, his artist nephew, living in New York. I recorded a voice memo of our conversation, sitting in our sitting room in Kolkata. And that recording of Mama’s dream inspired me to write Public Obscenities."
"Instead of making a movie, I wrote a play about who gets to be an artist and what to do with all the unexpected things we inherit, that we’re left with after people leave us," Chowdhury continues. "Ten days after Public Obscenities closed at Soho Rep, Mama died. I’ve been listening to the recording of his dream over and over. It feels good to listen to his voice. To his laugh. To follow the current of his infinitely curious mind. Every time I listen, I discover something new. It’s an ongoing collaboration. I’m glad that, through the play, Mama’s dream gets to live on.”
Public Obscenities features scenic design by Peiyi Wong, costume design by Enver Chakartash, lighting design by Barbara Samuels, video/projection design by Johnny Moreno, sound design by Tei Blow, and prop design by Patricia Marjorie. Tenley Pitonzo is production stage manager, and Tommy Kurzman is the hair and makeup stylist. Teniece Divya Johnson is the original intimacy director, with Shaquan M. Pearson as intimacy consultant. Sarah Lunnie serves as dramaturg, with Sukanya Chakrabarti as cultural dramaturg. The work is presented by Theatre for a New Audience, and produced by Soho Rep and NAATCO National Partnership Project.