Theater Review: LIFE OF PI (American Repertory Theater in Cambridge)

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by Lynne Weiss on December 18, 2022

in Theater-Regional


The eye-popping special effects of Life of Pi are reason enough to see this show. When video, lighting, and sound designers Andrzej Goulding, Tim Lutkin, and Carolyn Downing transform the solid stage of at A.R.T. not into dew, but a liquid — a spontaneous gasp and applause sprung from the house. The life-size puppets by Nick Barnes & Finn Caldwell — a goat, an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, a sea turtle, and most famously, a tiger — move and breathe, taking on a life of their own.

Celia Mei Ruben, Nikki Calonge, and Rowan Magee (“Black and White”),
Adi Dixit (“Pi”), Sathya Sridharan (“Mamaji”), and the companyMahira Kakkar (“Amma”), Adi Dixit (“Pi”), Salma Shaw, Betsy Rosen, Nikki Calonge,
Rowan Magee, Celia Mei Rubin (“Orange Juice”), and the company

Lolita Chakrabarti’s stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 Man Booker prize-winning novel won five Olivier awards in London. The A.R.T. production, directed by Max Webster, is the North American premiere of her beautiful work. It will head for Broadway in the spring of 2023 and the audience in Cambridge was buzzing during intermission and after the show, as people lingered in the lobby area, eager to process and discuss what they had just seen. This is live theater at its best, even without the special effects: The sets (Tim Hatley) are richly evocative, portraying scenes as diverse as a busy marketplace in Pondicherry, India, and the interior of a huge cargo ship on the sea. The original music for this show (Andrew T. Mackay) added emotion at crucial points in the story line.

Brian Thomas Abraham (“Cook”), Rajesh Bose (“Father”), Sonya Venugopal (“Rani”),
Mahira Kakkar (“Amma”), Adi Dixit (“Pi”)Rowan Magee (Sea Turtle), Jonathan David Martin (Puppeteer), Adi Dixit (“Pi”),
Celia Mei Rubin, Mahira Kakkar, and Nikki Calonge (“Orange Juice”)

Ultimately, it is the story that drives this production. The play presents the story of Pi (Adi Dixit) a young man who seeks the meaning of life in multiple religious traditions and who finds himself adrift on the ocean after a shipwreck, first threatened by and eventually learning to live with creatures once caged by his family in their Pondicherry zoo. His effort to describe his travails to an insurance investigator is a tale of survival that draws on both practical skills and inner wisdom — until the very end of the story, when we learn that he might have told another, much darker, story. His choice of which story to tell — as well as his awareness that he has a choice — is indeed the meaning of life that Pi has been seeking and that this production offers.

Adi Dixit (“Pi”), Rowan Magee, Celia Mei Rubin, Nikki Calonge (“Richard Parker”)Rowan Magee, Celia Mei Rubin, and Nikki Calonge (“Richard Parker”)

photos by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Life of Pi
American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University
Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square
ends on January 29, 2023
foe tickets, visit A.R.T.

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