If, in the midst of watching Nirbhaya, you realize that your heart has momentarily stopped beating and you are holding your breath, then you will indisputably be eliciting the appropriately human response. Your fellow audience members are likely joining you in this awestruck silence.
Writer and director Yael Farber’s profound docudrama chronicles an unnerving and heinous act that took place in Delhi, India on December 16th, 2012 when Jyoti Singh Pandey, a young physiotherapist intern, was brutally gang raped by six other men. Her male friend was also beaten. Pandey eventually died from the trauma, sparking a national and international outrage against sexual violence. The show’s title, Nirbhaya, is a Hindi word for “fearless” , an attribute which Pandey clung to until her dying day.
As the 100 minute intermission-less show begins, Pandey emerges, singing a hauntingly beautiful Indian song and walking as though she were a phantom. She remains on stage through most of the piece, hovering over the proceedings and serving as a reminder to her fellow victims, whose stories are equally as painful. They include accounts of a mother choosing between her own children, a dowry bride who was doused with kerosene, and other brutally forceful sexual acts. Farber’s deeply affecting script is unyielding in its’ attempt to demand attention, but it never steers into the direction of melo-drama. At times, Nirbhaya is uncomfortable to watch, and yet such a reaction brings to mind Edmund Burke’s quote that “evil thrives when the good do nothing.”
While we immerse ourselves in the vapid headlines of Bruce Jenner and “Dad Bods”, Nirbhaya forces us to remember that our humanity can be stripped from us at any moment, induces a spirit of gratitude, and spurs us into action. It is not hyperbolic to proclaim that this may well be the most important and imperishable pieces I have seen in my twenty plus year history of New York City theater.
Nirbhaya is now playing through May 17th at the Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker Street. For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit nirbhayatheplay.com