The Snake Charmer’s Demise

(Artwork: Ujwal Nair)

Omar Maskati.

By: Darryl Reilly

None of the snakes had ever followed me before. I made it all the way to the dirt road and she kept up. She wasn’t going anywhere.
It was then that I realized this poor girl must’ve lost her way from Mother Snake. Or, worse still, Mother’d been eaten by one of the birds or killed in some other heart-wrenching manner.
I made to leave again – Amma was waiting! But she followed again. I had no choice. I stayed the night with her.
The following morning, I took her home.

So, recalls a South Asian man in India of a profound childhood reptilian encounter in author Naren Weiss’ enchanting solo memory play, The Snake Charmer’s Demise. It is enthralling theatrical storytelling comprised of poignant vignettes laced with vivid choreography, all realized by the magnetic Omar Maskati’s grand performance. The presentation relies on silambam; this was a stick-fighting martial art which was outlawed by the colonial British, it exists today as a type of folk dancing. Mr. Weiss has been a practitioner of silambam since his youth, and here he vigorously depicts that genre with his fierce movement direction. Weiss’ absorbing fable-style scenario is enforced by his ravishing dramatic writing coupled with command of narrative, during a sweeping and affective 55 minutes.

Omar Maskati.

Anshuman is in his 30’s and reminisces about his troubled, poverty-stricken upbringing. His stern mother married a man outside of her community; they are separated, and she supports her and “Anshu” by working as a maid in a luxury apartment complex. There is no money to send him to school, so he is on own much of the time. He begs on the beach for money from white people, is visited by the goddess Kali, briefly reunites with his father, and takes home the baby snake who followed him, naming her Sahithya. They perform a snake charming act which becomes popular, life is wonderful until harshness intrudes.

Whether brandishing and jousting with a bamboo staff, fluidly in motion, or recalling past traumas in his resonantly melodious voice, the wide-eyed, beaming and limber Mr. Maskati is phenomenal as the narrator Anshuman. Clad in gauzy native wear, the sleek and luminous Maskati commands the stage while beautifully enacting this mystical tale, occasionally addressing the audience directly with verve.

Omar Maskati.

Director Rajesh Bose’s forceful physical staging precisely positions Maskati on the contained three-sided playing area with visual variance, perpetual momentum, and aching emotionalism, all while faithfully rendering Weiss’s vision as a small-scale spectacle. The landscape is a relatively empty space; the bare scenic design is black accented, has a few small cubes, and is accentuated by Ujwal Nair’s gorgeous projections and wall paintings. Dreamy lighting design and bracing sound design contribute to the production, adeptly overseen by stage manager Emma Ruopp.

The Snake Charmer’s Demise’s engaging magicality, entrancing presentation and Omar Maskati’s mighty performance, make it a moving experience.

The Snake Charmer’s Demise (through June 14, 2024)
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit
Running time: 55 minutes with no intermission


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