New Zealand’s Indian Ink Theatre Company returned to the Kahilu Theatre last Monday with their latest production, Paradise or The Impermanence of Ice Cream. In 2020, Indian Ink presented an immersive theater comedy called Mrs. Krishnan’s Party. The plot is more serious this time around and deals with a mass extinction, death, and unfulfilled dreams. But it’s not all doom and gloom, there are many lighthearted moments. The playwriters describe those as “the serious laugh – the opening mouths with laughter to slip ideas in.”
The one-man and one vulture play tracks the life and the partial afterlife of Kutisar (Jacob Rajan) as he wakes up in limbo. Kutisar is a recently deceased Costco employee who, at first, denies he’s dead and rationalizes, “It’s all just a bad dream, yeah, that’s it!” And then an ugly vulture appears to greet Kutisar – aghh!
As we learn, Kutisar is a member of the Parsi faith, and his body has been placed atop a dakhma, a raised tower where the deceased are left to have their flesh consumed by vultures. The relationship with the bird is a win-win for the community. The vulture’s cleansing role is a healthy part of an ecosystem that helps with the decline of rabies in feral dogs and keeps the soil from becoming contaminated.
During his brief time in limbo, Kutisar has transported back to various times in his life: a Mumbai disco and a kulfi (ice cream) shop among others. Along the way, six new characters emerge – Meera, a young woman, Dr. Rao (Meera’s eclectic aunt), her wealthy cousin Farooq, Dr. Vibhu Karash (a vulture expert and a professor at the Natural History Museum), a smooth-talking loan shark, and a bouncer – all flawlessly played by Rajan.
The audience soon learns the real-life mystery of the disappearance of India’s vultures, virtually extinct. You must see the play to know what the cause is.
In the final few moments of Paradise, we witness Kutisar’s body on the death tower lying motionless but still breathing. As the vulture lands on his chest, Kutisar takes his final breath.
We then hear one last message on Kutisar’s answering machine. It’s from his Costco boss wondering if he’s on his way to work – “Hope you’re okay.” As the message ends and the machine beeps, the eerie tone is sustained and mimics a heart monitor flat-lining while the stage lights slowly diminish to darkness.
In addition to the multiple outstanding performances by Jacob Rajan, puppeteer Jon Coddington did a fantastic job bringing the vulture to life. Coddington brought the vulture back out at the show’s end for a bow and a “soft-shoe” shuffle.
Rajan flew in from New Zealand with a lighting expert and a sound tech who spent the day installing special effects in the theatre, such as extra speakers for the audience to experience surround sound.
Paradise was written by Rajan and Justin Lewis and was inspired by Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer prize-winning Denial of Death. If you’ve seen the play and want a little more perspective on the plot, listen to my interview with Rajan to learn more of the backstory for Paradise or The Impermanence of Ice Cream.
About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in The NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby