AFTER GANDHI – SLEEPING NAKED | by Beverly Yuen
Concept and Synopsis
The play After Gandhi – Sleeping Naked is inspired by a lesser-known aspect of the spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi— his sex experiments in which he shared his bed with young girls to master his sexual drive. Gandhi explained that he was putting himself in sexually arousing situations in order to test his ability to resist sexual temptation. After Gandhi – Sleeping Naked is set in a dysfunctional family, where the father Bean models himself after Gandhi in pursuit of spirituality. Bean takes a vow of celibacy after having his first child, and starts sleeping naked with his daughter when she turns 10. Bean’s wife Mei Man doubts her attractiveness when her husband stops having sex with her. While she is forgiving towards her husband, she is jealous of her daughter who has the “privilege” of sleeping with her husband naked.
- Beverly Yuen – Playwright, Co-director
- Eng Kai Er – Actress (the daughter), Co-director
- Vincent Chia – Actor (the father)
- Doreen Toh Kwee Kee – Actress (the mother)
Sex is a big part of many people’s life/mind. However, some choose not to speak about it or openly admit that sex plays a major role in their life. After Gandhi-Sleeping Naked explores what it means to desire sex and repress sexual desire. Is suppressing sexual desire a holy act as compared to engaging in legitimate sexual acts? Is sleeping naked with attractive bodies a way to curb desire or test one’s control of sexual urges? Does controlling one’s sexual urges illustrate that one is more enlightened and spiritual than the rest?
Even if one is indeed more spiritual than the rest, can even the most spiritual of us justify our actions when our behaviour affects others around us in a profound way? Reports recorded that the women in Ghandi’s life competed against each other for his attention and were often observed in emotional turmoil. This suggests some degree of unhealthy side effects on people other than Ghandi himself. Can everything be sacrificed – including other people’s wellbeing – in the search for greater spirituality of the self?
Today, there are those who believe that Gandhi’s sex experiments were valid spiritual endeavours and others who believe that his actions were inherently abusive. There are also some who contend that because of Ghandi’s role in India’s independence, he is a great man (and his sexual behaviour can be excused or accepted because of his greatness). How do we make our judgements and decide for ourselves, whether certain unusual behaviours are acceptable?
After Gandhi-Sleeping Naked looks into the conflicts between spirituality and physical indulgence; control and freedom; acceptance and denial, through three characters in the household.
The script is developed together with the performers over three months from November 2014 to January 2015. While the playwright researched on the topics of celibacy and spirituality, records about Gandhi’s “Sex Experiments”, and developed the script from the perspective of dramatization, the performers explored the psychological state of the characters from the perspective of performing and characterization. The script is thus developed deeper with the discussions and exploration of the characters. This gives “soul”, “core” and “inner motivation” for the characters in the story. In addition, the actors brought in their affinity and association with the characters in the process of script development.
Some of the initial research materials include:
“Commenting on the diaries, psychoanalyst and scholar Sudhir Kakar writes: “So focused was the Mahatma on his own feelings during these experiments that I believe he may have ‘chosen’ to overlook their consequences for the women involved. Except for the flaring up of violent jealousy between the various women, we do not know the psychological effects, if any, that these experiments left on each of the women.”
“The teenage Abha was married to his great-nephew. Gandhi admitted that it was very dangerous sleeping close to her without wanting sex – but also conceded that it was a ‘very worthwhile experiment’.”
Some of the playwright’s reading resources include Gandhi: Naked Ambition by Jad Adams and Sex and Power by Rita Banerji, and articles about sexual abuse by family members or people who are close to the victims:
- http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/courts-crime/story/man-jailed-molesting-daughter-during-massage-20141128#xtor=CS1-10: Man jailed for molesting daughter during massage (The Straits Times)
- http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/02/10-ways-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-sexual-abuse/: 10 Ways To Talk To Your Kids About Sexual Abuse
- http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2013/11/21/Steamy-messages-gave-them-away-Salon-operator-uncovers-hairraising-affair-between-father-and-daughte/: My dad, My lover (The Star Online)
- http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne+News/Crime/Story/A1Story20111117-311163.html: Woman admits to incest in first such case here [Singapore] (AsiaOne)
Other than the secondary research materials, the collaborators discussed about their experiences of sexual abuse as kids (by strangers or people who were close to them) and about how they affect their views towards relationship and the perception of self.
Playwright’s Reflections in the Guest Room:
Spaces & Design
We started to look for the “spaces” for the bedroom and dining area. We attempted at looking for the physicality of what the space and production design would be like according to the background and personality of the character. This includes colors of the blankets and pillow, as well as what the characters would be wearing (design, colors, style).
Bean – the “spiritual” man
Bean is depicted as a highly spiritual character in the play. He is able to recite Taoist texts by Laozi and Zhuangzi by heart, and he is knowledgeable about Eastern philosophy. I told Vincent and Kai that as I wrote this character, I did not see him as a serious and boring person. In fact, in history/folk tales and the contemporary times, there are many spiritual beings who do not act according to a conventional definition of “holy”. Examples from folk tales are Ji Gong (a Buddhist monk in Chinese folk tales) who is wild and eccentric in his behavior and openly breaks monastic codes (such as drinking wine and consuming meat), but is still compassionate by nature and possesses supernatural powers; Mulla Nasrudin, a philosophical and wise man, who appears in numerous Middle Eastern stories as a person who is sometimes witty, sometimes wise, but often, too, a fool. I gave the example of Pastor Joseph Prince of New Creation Church as a contemporary example of a wise and spiritual person who does not behave in an apparently strict, serious and boring manner. During the delivery of sermons, Pastor Prince is always humorous, and he even narrates jokes or impersonates celebrities like Michael Jackson to bring his message across.
Thus, to me, it is important for Vincent and even Kai to look at the shades of spirituality and people who represent it. Spirituality and spiritual people should not be presented in a cliché manner.
Bean, in the play, could be sincere in his spiritual practice and he could be really doing his experiment for the sake of enlightenment without any other ulterior motive (which is open to audience interpretation). However, the play also wants to bring out the viewpoint that even if Bean is indeed sincere in his experiment and spiritual practice, he may have neglected the consequences of his personal actions on others.
1.oo pm – Doreen (actor) and Kithsa (musician) joined us for rehearsal.
We continued to discuss about the details of design from the perspective of character development. Based on our discussions, Kai is a typical teenage girl who wears a sleeveless top and shorts. Vincent, who plays Bean, should be in a lighter tone (e.g. white) as he is often in pursuit of spirituality (purity), and he has to portray a “neat look” as he has been receiving clients who consult him about matters related to life and living at his home. Doreen believes that her character will wear a loose dress, something which the character may feel comfortable with both at work—running her own business—and at home doing household chores.
Musician Kithsa tried to get a sense of the piece and decide the genre and mood of music to be used for each segment. The first draft for the music was completed on the first day of rehearsal. The music mainly works toward creating atmosphere of tension within the household and the leaps through time, space and atmosphere between scenes.
We managed to do a full run that day, and continued to explore the mindset of what the characters may have gone through. We also used instances from personal life to understand the characters better.
Delivering their lines in any languages other than English (e.g. Mandarin/dialect/Singlish)
The key objective of this exercise is to allow the performers to look for the layers or the unknown aspect of their characters without being “trapped” by the “formal script”. This exercise helps to break the restraints/assumptions a performer may set for himself/herself based on the “formal script”. It also helps to break the preconceived “rhythm” of the written lines. Once the “script” is dropped, the performers can start to understand the characters from a different perspective.
Taking turns to read the lines of a different character
Through the reading, the same character was interpreted in a different way by another person. This gives varied interpretations to characterization. The performers were free to “play” with the characters as they were not bound by the thinking that they owned the characters.
“Daddy replaced my teddy bear, which I used to hug to sleep. Definitely, daddy has a much nicer body to hug—warm, living, breathing. Once, I accidentally told Sally, my best friend that I love the intimacy of sleeping with my dad, she looked at me with startled eyes. (to Sally) “Well, you don’t sleep with your dad doesn’t mean I can’t sleep with my dad.” – Leng Leng (the daughter in the play)
After Gandhi – Sleeping Naked received development support from Centre 42, under the Guest Room programme.