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MUSIC : 'Land of Cards' Stacks Deck Against Ignorance

August 24, 1995|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to the Times Orange County Edition.

The hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs of today's card games derive from earlier suits representing four estates of man: the church, nobility, merchants and peasants.

In "Land of Cards," a musical fable to be performed Sunday at Fullerton College Campus Theatre, the suits follow suit, so to speak, symbolizing the caste or class divisions in a traditional society bound by the rules of the game.

"In this land of cards, people follow rules and regulations like robots," director Susmita Mukherjee said. "There is rigidity, an orthodox view. They do not know why they do what they do, but they do it.

"This story is applicable for any society; it speaks to any age, to any country, to any group of people. Even though it was written long ago, still it's very contemporary."

The work, written by Rabindra Nath Tagore, India's first Nobel Laureate, was first staged in 1934 in Calcutta. The local production, sponsored by the Bengali Assn. of Southern California, will be performed in Bengali, a language of India, with English subtitles and commentary.

Mukherjee, 49, was born in Calcutta and holds degrees in education and philosophy from Biswavarathi, a university founded by Tagore. She moved to the United States in 1971 and lives in Laguna Hills with her husband and two children. She has directed several Bengali plays in the Los Angeles area, among them another Tagore work presented in 1992 at the Pacific Asian Museum in Pasadena.

In "Land of Cards," the message is one of freedom--freedom from ignorance.

"The prince in the story tells of a new life and a free will," Mukherjee said. "That you have to enjoy life, that you have to do what your heart wants you to do." In the case of detrimental, often commonplace societal practices such as bigotry or sexism, she said, "it is ignorance that keeps people from understanding what they do, and from using their free will to stop."

That message isn't intended only for India.

"There are ignorant people everywhere," Mukherjee said. "There may be vast illiteracy in India, but there is also another side of society there, very educated. India has also had a caste system, not as prominent now as it used to be, and that's very much similar to the racism [in America].

"But time is taking care of it. It's not the same here as 50 years ago. In India also, it's not as rigid as it used to be. People are getting better and better."

In the story, the charms of the palace leave the prince indifferent, while the mysterious unknown attracts him to the land beyond the oceans that surround his kingdom. A voyage, and a shipwreck, bring the prince and a friend to the Land of Cards, where political and social mores are a religion, society is demarcated by color and creed, and disobedience is sin.

To that oppressive environment, the voyagers bring songs of joy, life and hope. But, according to Mukherjee, the prince also benefits by his exposure to another culture, if only by fulfilling his thirst for adventure.

"Tagore's message is that a person should not be secluded within his own country, his own society, his own surroundings," she said. "The mind should go all over. Your personality should face the world.

"Most American students and the young generation haven't really had much knowledge about the outside world. In other countries, people want to know more about the other side of world. Here they have been so self-content . . . But now I think they are going beyond that."

A 15-member orchestra will include sitar, tabla, guitar and drum. The number of actors and singers--this is the Land of Cards, after all--is 52.

* What: "Land of Cards."

* When: Sunday, 5 p.m.

* Where: Fullerton College Campus Theatre, corner of Chapman Avenue and Lemon Street, Fullerton.

* Whereabouts: Take the Orange (57) Freeway to the Chapman Avenue exit and head west.

* Wherewithal: $5 to $10.

* Where to call: (714) 458-6858.

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