Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Call-Center Drama For One Person Only

APThe busy streets and year-round heat of Calcutta, India, are evoked in the German-directed, one-performer show.
The locals in Calcutta like to mash potatoes with rice, add mustard oil and simmer the mix to a tasty meal. They also like to pray to the god of wealth and success, Ganesha, an elephant deity with a big curved trunk, flapping ears and an oversized belly riding a mouse.

All this I learned in about 40 minutes sitting alone in a drab hotel room in northern Moscow as the wind howled outside. I became part of the performance in the English language show "Call Cutta in a Box," part of the New European Theatre Festival (NET), where there is only one spectator and one actor.

The actor in this case is a real worker at a call center in Calcutta, a 23-year-old woman who told me that Calcutta (or "Kolkata") is the capital of the state of West Bengal in eastern India and is India's third-largest city with a population of more than 15 million people. The weather is 24 degrees Celsius right now in late November, skies are clear and every day, more than 1 million commuters pass over the city's Howrah Bridge, the busiest bridge in the world.

The point of "Call Cutta in a Box" is not to provide one with a glimpse of life in India but to connect — in an unexpected and unobtrusive way — a human being on a cold November evening in Moscow with someone just as human sitting in Calcutta on a hot November night.

"Can I ask you a philosophical question?" asks the voice on the other end of the line. "If you believed in reincarnation, and you died, what kind of animal would you turn into?"

Net Festival
The "actors" work in a call center.
"Call Cutta in a Box" is showing this week as part of the New European Theatre Festival, which is targeted toward a multilingual audience with shows in English, Italian, Polish and German. Highlights include "Shukshin's Short Stories," directed by Latvian director Alvis Hermanis — an interpretation of the works of Russian writer and film director Vasily Shukshin, starring Chulpan Khamatova and Yevgeny Mironov — and the Danton's Case" by young Polish director Jan Klata.

The unusual "Call Cutta" was created by three German directors — Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel — who all have experience with theater projects where roles are played by "experts" of a particular profession not actors.

Without giving too much away, the show is not just a conversation but a clever mystery tour that each participant can take in whatever direction he or she wants, getting to know the person in Calcutta as closely as one's imagination or social aptitude allows.

The actor and spectator communicate through phone, then Skype and even via web cam. The real art, though, is in the chance the show gives people to make friends with each other despite being time zones apart and coming from different cultures.

The thrill starts when one is brought into a hotel room and left sitting there wondering what will happen next. Then the telephone rings. The teapot starts boiling by itself. And it turns out the person on the other end of the line knows more about you than you know about yourself. But where it ends is different for everyone.

"Call Cutta in a Box" runs from Nov. 20 to 22, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Hotel "Irbis," 1 Gostinichnaya Ul. M. Vladikino or Petrovsko-Razumovskaya. Tickets are 500 rubles. 650-1688. The New European Theatre Festival runs through Dec. 5 at various locations throughout Moscow.