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Sunday, 24 April 2016

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Government Gazette

[DRAMA Review ]

What a Nice Couple:

Between facades and mirages

Young playwright and director Chamara Guruge presented 'What a Nice Couple', a two-character One-Act play, at the Tower Hall in mid March. The play is an unfolding of a scenario of marital turbulence between a young married couple as enjoy an evening at home to mark their first wedding anniversary.

Why does a play that is basically Sinhala medium have an English title one might ask? It is I feel a symbolic reflection of how contemporary Sri Lanka is increasingly becoming a code-mixing people; the mixing being notably the inclusion of English words and phrases into Sinhala sentencing.

Conceptions and preconceptions

The title works with a duality in reflecting the situation of the couple as well. On the one hand it can be thought of as a sardonic statement about what superficial filament holds the conceptions and preconceptions of the husband and wife of how they view each other in respect of what they should be as 'spousal functionaries' in a marriage smugly declared to be not another typical marriage mired in the hypocritical market economy driven rat race. On the other hand it can be a statement that empathises with how caring they turn out to be to each other towards the end in being committed to forge ahead and not abandon each other despite being shattered in their self conceptions of what makes their marriage a remarkable one.

The performance had its immensely compelling moments, proving the calibre of acting talent coupled with the effectiveness of the script could keep an audience magnetised to the story unfolding on stage, although it comes off as something of a slow moving scenario that dwells on the realness of silences and the quietude of a relaxing evening between two married people may have when there is no 'social dimension' involved.

In this regard, the actor Nilanka Dahanayaka and the actress Shyamila Kalhari must be applauded for the praiseworthy performance. At times the depths of emotions brought out by them were near spellbinding. What must be noted about the performance is that it is no cakewalk for two people to unfold a play within a single scene setting, for over an hour, maintaining unbroken focus on their 'duet' of dialogue and silence, to build a 'fabric of performance' that creates a space of conjugal intimacy which moves at different paces and varying emotions. Dahanayaka, who brilliantly brought to life the character of a prophesising madman in the short play Dharmishta Samajayak Godanagamu (Let's Build a Righteous Society) performed at the Punchi Theatre on February 18, proves what remarkable talent he has to bring vastly different characters to life convincingly.

In its essence, the play carries the idea of how a married couple may never know how great a jeopardy their marriage can be tossed in until circumstances arise. How well do we really know the person with whom we commit to share our life with as a spouse? How much trust do we really place in them? How much undisclosed distrust do we carry about them? And how much absolute unreserved and utterly complete disclosure of our daily lives can we bear to share with that spouse?

Solid marriage

In one way, Guruge's play raises the question as to what defines the foundation of 'a solid marriage'. Is it always about one telling the other every single thing that happened during the day to achieve a sense of 'sharing your life' with your spouse, by 'verbally reliving' your day with him/her to ensure there are no secrets between them? Or is a solid marriage really about planning for that continual future of togetherness? Or is it a mix of both?

Although vastly different in terms of storyline, plot and politics, Nobel laureate and British playwright Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter is also a One-Act play performed by two characters in one setting where both the spoken word and the silences between verbal interactions of the players build the weight of the 'performance text' (as opposed to the text as a written script). In a similar vein one can note how What a Nice Couple shows the 'role of silence' and its significance to the 'performance text', when considering the relationship and the crisis that brews between two people -a young married couple who are committed to the confines of the space that most exclusively defines their spousal relationship -their residence depicted in the play as a dining room and a bedroom.

Multiple inputs

Is the bedrock of a smooth marital relationship good conversation? Communication is essential, yes, but conversation is another art altogether. So what if conversation always doesn't go smoothly between a married couple and there is no third party present to infuse some respite to save the dialogue spiralling into utter sourness? I would like to refer to American short story writer Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Carver's story happens between two married couples engaged in conversation over gin and tonic and speaks of how disclosures test the limits of individual comfortableness in company that is intimate but also social. There is however multiple inputs on issues between the four characters on matters they discuss as affecting them in their married lives. However, in Guruge's play all issues must be resolved entirely between the husband and wife. The emotive intensity that builds into the situation clearly shows how rational thinking can evade two people when objectivity is practically nonexistent given the nature of the situation.

In this age of inescapable mobile telephony, the regular intrusion into private/personal time from work related people can be a severe disservice that causes frustrations that end up taking its toll by contributing to domestic discord, as shown in this play. When the husband, on admitting how dissatisfied he is with his professional life, comes to a state of pitiful 'brokenness' he is a creature defeated of his prized manliness.

One could say there is in that aspect a thread of feminist politics reflected through the play. From being something of a radical rebellious youth who claims and believes he is a 'liberal', the husband realises all the idealistic vigour he was capable of has withered away. It creates a poignant juncture of questioning, what is his worth now to even himself, apart from what he earns as a mere cog within the prevailing cyclical 'system' that rules our lives. And in that one may see something of a socialist critical reflection from the play. However, as the play ends one sees the final outlook of the couple and their intentions speak of a rightwing 'thought path'. Protecting their marriage to build a family and a financially secure future is their destination, if not in Sri Lanka, then overseas. Thus Guruge presents a play that captures much of the reality of the prevalent mindset among Sri Lanka's newlyweds.

'What a nice couple' is not a play that entertains the theatregoer who seeks a carousing comedy story. But it will speak deeply to any Sri Lankan who cares to be attuned to view a facet of reality that reflects some of the issues crippling the spirit of our country's younger generation. If you are a patient and keen observer of human emotions this play will move you.

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