Asian Theatre Journal 19.2 (2002) 378-382
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Kathakali has become well known to Asian performance scholars around the world in no small part due to Phillip Zarrilli's numerous contributions to the field over the past three decades. In his 1984 seminal work, The Kathakali Complex: Actor, Performance, Structure, Zarrilli laid out a comprehensive sociocultural and highly technical account of this 350-year-old dance-drama of Kerala, SouthIndia.Zarrilli has surpassed himself inhis latest volume, Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play. While the earlier work seemed to answer a need at the time for an in-depth study of kathakali 's multifaceted technique, training regimen, and patronage system, his newly published volume signals to Asian performance scholars a multidimensional approach to [End Page 378] writing about Asian theatre and dance. One can easily imagine this work as a DVD or CD-ROM, and the book could be used analogously—its three main sections employed independently of each other.
Assembled here are ten chapters, many of which are revisions of earlier published pieces from a variety of journals and books; as one entity, however, they form as complete an elucidation of kathakali as exists to date in any language. Throughout the book Zarrilli integrates his own scrupulously researched perspective with the voices of villagers, young urbanized Keralites, kathakali artists, and aficionados. The book satisfies the ethnographic imperative to situate kathakali in its variety of locales both historically and currently—in traditional contexts in Kerala as well as in its many reconstituted and contested forms both in Kerala and beyond.
Part One, "Performance in the Kerala Context," is a more compact exegesis of kathakali technique, makeup and costuming, stage conventions, training, and history than presented in his earlier volume. It would, however, stand up equally well on its own as a comprehensive overview for the majority of readers. The accompanying video taken in Kerala, An Introduction to Kathakali Dance-Drama (available separately), is a solid piece of videography covering the "process and techniques of training," that is, the makeup types, eye exercises, facial expressions, footwork, and performance context. While several film documentaries on kathakali have been produced over the years, one most notably by David Bolland in the early 1960s titled Masque of Malabar: The Study of Kathakali, Zarrilli's new video has an ethnographic clarity and updated visual appeal ideally suited for Asian theatre instructors and students of kathakali today.
In Part Two, the heart of the book, "Plays from the Traditional Repertory," Zarrilli offers precise text-in-performance translations of four diversely important plays in the current repertoire. His translations (in collaboration with colleaguesV. R. Prabodhachandran Nayar of the University of Kerala and senior kathakali actorM.P. Sankaran Namboodiri), along with the descriptive background and commentaries he provides, will give readers a new level of understanding of the deep structure, aesthetics, and theological underpinnings that inform the genre. These translations are long overdue. No scholarly work to date on the kathakali genre includes complete play translations. Further, Zarrilli translates the plays in their entirety as they are enacted in performance, noting the scenes that are generally edited out today. He includes translations and stage directions for the all-important interpolated sections usually reserved for senior artists. These sections, known as ilakiyattam, are not in the original play texts but rather are creations of actors or their patrons and are passed down from teacher to student. In contemporary kathakali, the ilakiyattam sections enable actors to display their virtuosic talents. Since no sung texts accompany them, however, the average kathakali-going public does not generally understand these components. By including them here Zarrilli offers invaluable information to the kathakali viewer. Fortunate indeed is the person who is able to attend one of these four plays with this book in hand (or perused in advance). [End Page 379]
Zarrilli based his translations directly on live performances staged in 1993 by the newly...