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The female stand:

Alone but not abandoned

Udayasiri Wickremaratne’s theatrical creation ‘Suddek Oba Amathai’ has received mixed responses from critics and reviewers over the course of its run on stages across the country. Some have questioned whether it is in fact a play at all, whereas others have hailed it as a bold innovative work of modernity that adds much ingenuity to the local stagecraft.

The play is composed of three soliloquies which do not run into any dialogue and interplay between actors.

A scene from Suddek Oba Amathai

Monologues have certainly been identifiable and celebrated elements in classical theatre, the best example being the soliloquy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which begins with the immortals line–“To be or not to be, that is the question.” Can a monologue alone hold ground to constitute a play? The idea of a one act play has been well developed in the west where theatre has had an evolutionary narrative in its craft adopting methods to suit the times and circumstances that paint the prevailing political landscape.

Modalities

However, a one act play does not necessarily mean the play is acted out by just one player alone, although that has been one of the modalities that are adopted. But then the contention may be raised to counter ‘Suddek Oba Amathai’ as nonconforming to the framework of a one act play on the simple fact that it has three such ‘One Acts’ and thereby being an oxymoron of sorts when the contents are analysed against the label of genre.

The playwright Udayasiri strongly believes that the play has been a strong delivery to audiences in its tonalities of engagement and incitement to think. One who has watched the play would find it hard to argue against such perspectives since the play turns the stage very effectively into a pulpit for the three players –Nalin Pradeep Udawela, Jayalath Manoratne and Madanee Malwattage who successively bring to life three very vocal characters discoursing on three different themes that have linkages within the broader scope of the subject of dealing with a hybrid identity in an era of post colonialism.

The play as a statement of one’s convictions

“Today the play is not just a work of mine alone as the playwright, but it has become something much more.” Udayasiri spoke his words with ardour. “It has become our Aathma prakashaya.” The creator as an artist will always stand for his creative output as being one that expresses his innerness and having got tangible form through whatever medium that has been adopted. But how much of this self conviction can an actor who ‘plays out’ a role in bringing to life the larger picture claim or assent to such a position expounded by the work’s creator?

The trio of monologues are delivered by two males and a woman who is the last to take the stage and stands out as the only female role. Madanee Malwattage brings to life a woman who speaks of a theorem labelled –‘Sadaranathwawadaya’ which may be translated as ‘Fairnessism’. As the finale this act may seem somewhat disjointed compared to the two that precede it.

Yet one may realise as the discourse progresses that the words spoken by Madanee bring out an aspect of the hybrid dilemma of love and hate towards the coloniser that has taken shape within our society in the post colonial context.

Bringing to life an impassioned speaker who delivers with womanly poise and grace a heady discourse arm in arm with gender studies Madanee had at first found the structure of the play as something unusual when the script had been given to her. Though she was familiar with the conceptual side of a One Act Play she had not watched one.

The play as a work today seems to her something that is “Not a play but also not, not a play”, thereby suggesting a strong feature of hybridism that defies strict genre alignments.

She had read the script three or four times, to better understand where the role of the woman stood in the midst of what seemed a very male driven discourse. The role and the task of bringing to life the character of the woman in the play had felt a real challenge to her. “There were a few instances during rehearsals when I felt I couldn’t pull it off and felt like resigning from the task.”

Feedback

The need for feedback and ongoing grooming to fully develop the character had been a weighty process. “Udayasiri aiya helped me a lot to understand the conceptual aspects of this role.

And of course my husband Kirthi K. Ratnayake who is my best critic and audience was instrumental for me to better grasp what was expected of me in bringing life to this character. His input was crucial for me.” The manner in which Madanee speaks of her character says she treats it as more than a mere duty or task in performance.

She seems to feel her ownership over the character very pronouncedly.

How much of an inner voice does the character reflect of the actress?

An actor could be at times the reflection of how the directorial hand moves in painting a picture in motion. And at times the actor could be who gives life beyond the scripted words to make the director’s vision more fuller in real life. The symbiosis between the script, the director and the actor is surely a very complex one that has its own set of merits and demerits.

Udayasiri had allowed all three actors the required space to develop these characters to make sure that they did not feel distant from what was made to be brought to life. Madanee feels that what she brings to life on the stage when performing her monologue in ‘Suddek Oba Amathai’ is something she can relate to intellectually as well as spiritually. She believes that a character (and through it possibly the play altogether) could fail if the player does not believe that the character stands as something real and relatable to. Bridging the gaps from what she understood of a scripted character and one that stands before a living audience had required much work to mould the woman to be one that she as a person could feel bring out her own inner voice, if made to speak of such topics as the ones her character discourses.

Honour

“A character like this is very much a first in the Sinhala theatre. I’m truly thankful to Udayasiri for having the vision to create such a character and for choosing me to bring it to life. The role of the woman in the play has been talked about much. Maybe because of the way the woman stands out in the play.

Maybe because it is very rarely that we could see a female role like this come alive on the stage. Or maybe it is because the role of the woman is the only female to come on to the stage. I feel a sense of pride and honour in having brought this role to life and made it a part of a play that hasrun over 80 performances up to now.”

Maybe the play has broken new ground in terms of creating space for dramatic expression. Maybe the present day and age where women’s issues are given prominence and attention has worked to the playwright’s advantage. Maybe it is the skills and talents of a host of creative artists that have made it possible for a female voice to command the attention of an audience to voice issues that mark the times we live in.

If Madanee Malwattage can stand in front of a crowd and bring to life a woman who can unabashedly speak her mind without feeling self conscious, the space of the theatre has then allowed a notable empowerment to the symbolic woman in our society.

And if Madanee can relate to the role as being a voice that she has moulded in order to give voice to what is required by the playwright, then surely she can as a person say that her role stands for what she could possibly represent on her own.

There perhaps is the harmonious symbiosis between the playwright, the script, and the player who brings it to life.

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