The Skeleton Woman is a play co-written by Kalki Koechlin and Prashant Prakash, directed by Nayantara Kotien and produced by Anurag Kashyap. It takes a basic idea from the Inuit folktale of the skeleton woman about life, death and rebirth. Inuits are people living in the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, and Alaska, United States. The folktale is about a fisherman who lands up hooking a skeleton woman in his rod when out at sea. Petrified by her, he rows back ashore only to find her following him. He runs back towards his home and sees that the skeleton woman is still on his tracks. Finally once home he believes he is safe and sits in peace only to find her lying in a tangled mess in front him. From fear his emotions change to pity and he untangles her and sets her straight. Then he falls asleep and the skeleton woman wakes up and takes shape. Finally the skeleton woman and the fisherman return to the sea together.
From a goose in the pond that goes into the sea, to sharks in his living room and finally to the hand of the skeleton woman who he claimed to have found on one of his many fishing sojourns, the writer’s imagination captivates the audience. His faith in what he imagines is as endearing as his wife’s repeated attempts to bring him back to reality. Irked constantly by his scruffiness and contempt for the mundane, she struggles throughout to talk to him and to be with him. Even though she hates fish – their smell, the way they look, the way they feel – she is still a ready listener of his stories about the sea.
Despite her taunts, some barbed and some vicious, she remains his steady supporter as he churns reams and reams of unfinished stories, musings and poems. When success finally comes to him, after enduring much, a key point from the Inuit folktale, they celebrate in what is reminiscent of their fishing days. Her outrage at his declaring her dead to the world is short-lived and they are shown as going of happily into the sunset.
Great performances by both the actors who looked and sounded the characters really well. From the regularity of life together to the madness that comes from being driven up a wall, all emotions were portrayed very realistically. An undertone of sarcasm as well as an edge was clearly sketched out.
The set and the props were superb right from the skeleton boat, which was at the main stage first and soon went into the background. Not quite in the audience’s face and yet never gone. The goose, which from being a stuffed animal became a fluffy cottony life-sized goose and arrived at the writer’s dinner plate is one of the rare together moments the couple enjoy.
A great watch and I really look forward to more productions by Quaff – the theatre company that Kalki Koechlin and Prashant Prakash have set up.