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LA presents 'The Gita and the Gun' - story of a young woman's strength in a harsh environment
As a production and lighting designer, Ning Ji gets the chance to blur the lines in live production that allow the audience to complement what they are seeing onstage with their own imagination.

As a producer of "The Gita and the Gun" she was able to elevate her normal role to have exponentially greater impact. With fanciful animations, vivid colors, and sometimes intentionally oppressive lighting, Ji helped to manifest a world where lucidity and unbelief battle each other for the perception of the audience and for a sixteen-year-old named Abhiti.

The play deals with numerous disturbing social topics and these are all floating in the atmosphere of the play along with Ji's imagery. Art Share LA has built its name on more than two decades of edgy productions that push the public into an uncomfortable place and "The Gita and the Gun" is prominent among these.

The story of immigrants and the children of immigrants is not completely new to film, TV, and theater productions but there is a unique and dark twist to this tale. The Gita & The Gun follows sixteen-year-old Abhiti, the second generation daughter of an Indian American family.

Abhiti's life is far from tranquil. Her father was killed in a gas station robbery and her working mother has a perspective rooted in the past. Abhiti is rescued by a police officer when she is attacked by schoolbullies. This same policeman who instructs her about defending herself against said bullies eventually rapes her. She struggles to understand the emotional torrent that engulfs her. This brutal reality is offset by a surreal alternative reality during her sleeping moments as she is visited by a mysterious trumpet-playing elephant (an obvious reference to the Bhagavad Gita and Ganesh, the Hindu god with an elephant's head who is the remover of all obstacles). In the final scenes of the play, Abhiti faces her fears and wounds the police officer with his own gun.

The fingerprint of Ning Ji is prominent in this play presented at the acclaimed Art Share LA. Most commonly known in the industry as a lighting and projection manager, Ji also took on the the mantle of producer for this production. The skillful vacillation between reality and the dream world of Abhiti was a result of Ji's close work with writer Roshni Shukla (known for her work on Fox Network's 9-1-1 starring Academy Award-Nominee Angela Bassett). Shukla wanted a less obvious approach that would be felt rather than stated at times. The disturbing instance of rape was presented in a highly unique fashion.

Ji describes, "Roshni wanted to have this part of the story choreographed to a dance. Abhiti likes to dance. In her dreams, she always dances with the elephant-man. The dance moment here begins just like the dance in Abhiti's dreams but I slowly switched the lighting from a sunset look to a surreal and artificial moment. She and Jay (the policeman) dance in front of two direct back lights as the audience only sees their silhouettes dancing as the action becomes more forceful and violent. The lights continue to increase to an intensity that the audience feels the harshness on their eyes and becomes uncomfortable. This represents danger and uncertainty. The lights get brighter, communicating the concept that they are getting to hit us. Then there is a complete blackout. Both Abhiti and the audience feel helpless in this dark and empty space."

Numerous other examples illustrate Ji's ability to create an environment where the emotional impact of the scene is not dependent on exposition. Ji's innovative style led to her being designer of the set, lighting and projections for "The Gita and the Gun." Much of this Southland Company production feels as if it takes place in a photographic studio rather than a specific and realistic location. This exacerbates the disassociated feeling to Abhiti's experiences and desire to gain a safe foothold in her life. A shadowy day world is contrasted with a colorful dream world that she lives in at night. The strong statement made by playwright/actress Roshni Shukla is inseparable from the otherworldly atmosphere cultivated by Ning Ji in this uncomfortable and ultimately vindicating story.

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