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'An actor is one who is made and not one who is born'

should be the motto of the Sinhala theatre

Translated by Ranga Chandrarathne

Continued from 21 December 2006

A Critique on the State Sinhalese Drama Festival of 1966.

(This is a translation of a critique by Prof. Ariya Rajakaruna. He served as the Head of the Department of Sinhala of the University of Peradeniya. He is currently a visiting lecturer attached to the Departments of Fine Arts and Sinhala. This is the only comprehensive review written on any State Sinhala Drama Festival held during the last five decades. This review was first published in 1967. This critique has been translated for the first time.)

Apparently, there are no special skills and aptitude on the part of the dramatists to keep the audience's attention intact according to the techniques of realistic drama.

The producer of Ahas Maliga (The Glass Menagerie) was able to make use of out-of-the theatre techniques such as focusing of the spotlight on the narrator at the start and at the end of the drama while the whole audience is in the dark, the narrator addressing the audience from the highest step of the fleet of steps to the house, mother and daughter watch the moon sitting on the fleet of steps, son holding a newspaper apparent to the audience through the thin curtain when he enters home with the guest, son carrying out a conversation with the guest on the fleet of steps, a sudden black out of the stage and lighting a candle, to intensify the zest of the drama.

The playback music which is intermittently heard from the start to the end of the drama, even at times when absolutely nothing is happening on the stage is able to attract the audience's attention to the stage. Mahinda Dias has craftily used lighting on the stage.

Though Jayasena's language does not possess the same poetic quality, Jayasena has been able to use the language with some aptitude. The producer's attempt to create a conducive atmosphere for an 'unnatural drama' has been successful to a certain degree.

In terms of acting, a certain degree of discipline can be seen in Jayasena's drama. However, Jayasena does not possess a skillful team of actors and actresses compared to Sugathapala de Silva, which is perceived as a weakness.

Amanda Wingfield created by Williams is a complex character. Manel Jayasena fails to portray every aspect of Mother's character derived from Amanda Wingfield. She was able only to portray some aspects of that character. Henry Jayasena as son and Grace de Silva as daughter show certain skills. In some instances, the influence of Western film acting can be observed in Jayasena's acting. A weakness of Grace de Silva is that she cannot speak loud to the audience.

Dhamma Jagoda and Hector Rupasinghe adapted Tennessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1947) into the Sinhala theatre as "Wes Muhunu". "A Streetcar Named Desire" is a symbolic title for Tennessee Williams' drama while 'Wes Muhunu' is an expression born out of distortion of the drama. When some instances from 'Wes Muhunu' were taken for observation, it is obvious that the drama is not apt for Sri Lankan society.

However, in a complete sense, it does not portray an indigenous environment. The objective of the dramatist is to underscore a conflict between two societies superseding the complexities of Blanche's character. Kumari Udawela (Roma de Zoyza), a character derived from Blanche's character, appears for feudalism.

Her sister (Sunetra Jagoda) who is married to Samson Silva (Dhamma Jagoda) represents lumpen society. What is the conflict between lumpen society and feudal society? The drama is based on an imaginary conflict between these two social strata. No such conflict between two social strata is being reflected through the characters of Kumari Uduwela and Samson Silva.

It is obvious that the attempt at portraying Kumari Udawela's character as one that has sprung from Sri Lankan society by the adapter has failed. The sense of depth in the original play has not been found in the Sinhalese adaptation. As the dramatist strives hard to make the production natural which arouse feelings, the language in some parts of the adaptation is weak as well as crude.

There are some significant aspects in 'Wes Muhunu'. A certain influence of Sugathapala de Silva's techniques of play production is manifested in 'Wes Muhunu'. The producers were able to attract the audience's attention by employing out-of-the theatre techniques. Samson Silva, entering the stage and throwing a parcel of meat at Swarna Silva is such a technique that attracted the audience's attention.

Peep out from the rear window and speak out, observing the scene inside the house, walking up and down along the steps has been used with some understanding of the craft. From the start to the end, the drama was staged in a stress- free manner.

Sunethra Jagoda who portrayed the character of Swarna Silva acted naturally. As she was able to speak loud without betraying the fact that she by-hearted the words, it seems that she has some understanding of the Theatre and Acting. However, the major weakness in Sunetra's acting is that she was not so skillful in her facial expressions.

Roma is a rare actress who is suited to portray complex urban characters and also seems an actress who mastered the natural drama (Swabhavika natya). She had an understanding of the characters she portrayed which is lacking in most Sri Lankan actresses and an ability to illustrate a range of emotions through facial expressions. She uses her entire body in acting to express emotions.

The manner in which she behaved upon the stage suggests that she really likes acting. However, she was virtually stranded between Williams's Blanche and Dhamma Jagoda's Kumari Uduwela. Her acting in the penultimate scene was weak. There were many instances where she lost her natural acting due to reading between lines and delivering dialogues in a way betraying the fact that she by-hearted them.

The producers should be commended for introducing Roma de Zoysa, who portrayed the character of Kumari Uduwela, to the Sinhala theatre. It does not, however, suggest that she did her part well.

Roma has the ability to become an accomplished actress at the hand of a skillful producer. Dhamma Jagoda as Samson Silva showed as an actor who could portray certain types of characters successfully.

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