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Sunday, 8 February 2015

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Drama review

Thun Mollu: Three characters in a chaotic coexistence

What sounded like indistinctly American jazz music rolled out to the ears of the audience as I sat in the gentle darkness of the Punchi Theatre to witness the award-winning playwright and drama director Buddhika Damayantha’s latest creation Thun Mollu (Three Idiots). The drama is played by three characters – Andy (Mahendra Weeraratne), Norman (Rajitha Hewathanthri) and Sofia Rosemary Dalpadathu (Ayesha Dissanayake.) The ‘turbulent behaviourism’ of the trio is the central force driving the story and its narrative.

The location of the story is an apartment occupied by Andy and Norman where they live and produce their life’s occupation, the magazine they publish as a periodical which is presented to be as something of a progressive explosive critique of the hypocritical political structures that govern the country. The premise of the story is basically how the two ‘revolutionaries’ who hope to contribute towards a salutary change in the country through a magazine they are committed to (despite the looming penury that seems to be ready to engulf, them if the magazine does not sell well) get thrown into a stormy ride due to the girl next door.

Their attractive neighbour Sofia Rosemary Dalpadathu instantly mesmerises and throws off course Norman, who seemed until then a writer regimentally committed to the cause.

Overt references

She turns Norman’s world upside down inside out and upsets the deadlines that have to be stuck to ensure the magazine comes out on the due date. But none of it is her fault. She can’t help it if the writer next door to whom she was simply being genuinely neighbourly has fallen head over heels and has lost all sense of rhyme and reason. And thereby the playwright presents the crux of what turns out to be a chaotic triangular correlation of people with three objectives forced into seeking.

I was beginning to wander while watching the drama with its overt references to the prevailing political landscape and the campaign slogans from the recently concluded Presidential election whether the script was written over the past two months.

While the play does have its grains of appreciable comedy it did not strike me as a comedy which has the potential to keep the audience in stitches.

The story has a rather telling subtext of how romantic idealisms of young writers who believe their penmanship can be a forceful catalyst for change in Sri Lanka may commit a great deal of their young lives to a goal, possibly flirting with the disaster of crippling impoverishment.

One may wonder in this respect how many young artists and writers in Sri Lanka over the course of our modern history would have dreamt of being forces for salutary change, but perhaps couldn’t even sustain their basic needs and thus got obliterated.

What potential does the ‘New Young Left’ if one may call it, as manifested by young groups who regularly brandish Che Guevara as their ‘image-slogan’ calling for socialist change, to actually see their political goals realised, through their chosen medium of rebellion which is art and mass media and not armed struggle?

Perhaps nothing for certain, is a message in the subtext of the play was what I felt seeing the struggle that Andy and Norman and embroiled in as politically active young men. The core of the song strummed out with a guitar as a creative pace changer to the narrative: his tin ekak wage ape jeevithe (Our life is like an empty tin can), speaks of the existential bleakness that really underscores the plight of young Sri Lankans like the trio of characters in Thun Mollu.

Mixture

There is a heady mixture of elements in the play. The jazz music that marked the start had me wondering if this was a story set somewhere in the USA delivered in the Sinhala medium.

There were enough indications in the visual texture of the opening scene to assume so, coupled with the jazz of course. I was also wondering if it was a translation of a foreign play, although neither the ticket nor the poster stated so. But as the dialogue progressed it was evident that it is a story set very much in present day Sri Lanka.

Without intending to insinuate any denouncement towards the playwright or the work, I would say that the play seemed an underworked script overacted in performance. True, the characters are eccentrics but there was notable zealousness in the actors –especially in the performances by Hewathanthri and Dissanayke to the effect of almost brandishing labels about the eccentricity of their characters.

Perhaps, may I suggest humbly, for what it may be worth, I hope the director may consider reviewing the method of projection of the characters in performance, opting for a more mercurially subtle shifting of gears to bring out their emotional constructions without a constant drive of alacrity and adrenaline on noticeable standby within the veins of the actors.

In a day and age where translations of foreign plays are dominating the segment of ‘artistic theatre’ in the realm of Sinhala theatre, original plays must be appreciated for the risk taking involved.

The playwright intended to present a story to an audience seeking popular entertainment in the nature of slapstick comedy. But he has created a work ribbed with doses of comedy, lively music and some rather weighty undertones about the seriousness of the subject of the young ‘struggling activist’ who strives to establish in this era the belief that the pen should be mightier than the sword; as the path for a ‘people’s revolution’.

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