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Sunday, 03 July 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Why bring a child into a world that isn't full of sugar and spice and all that's nice?

Lungs - sums up life in a line or two

Once upon a pleasant evening many years ago, my good friend Lakruwan Withanage, who is now an accomplished professional in film and TV commercial production field, related to me the plot of his Sinhala short play Kadadhasi Boattoo (Paper Boats) which had been performed in the State Drama Festival of 2004. At the heart of the play he narrated to me, was a survey on how economic adversity creates a crippling emotional dilemma on several people, whether or not they should become parents. One young man in the play, Kadadhasi Boattoo, is afraid he will not be able to fulfil his paternal obligations to his child from an economic vantage. The desire for children also causes anxieties of how successful first time parents would be in 'bringing up' a 'person' after accomplishing the 'procreation' of a 'human'.

Lungs, a British play written by Duncan Macmillan, and staged as a directorial work by Sashane Perera at the Punchi Theatre, which I watched on its closing night on June 26, showed a space where full 'ventilation' was made of the anxieties of a young couple at impending parenthood, that begins a core question of whether they should have a child and if it would prove to be a salutary decision?

Produced by Dinesh Maheswaran Lungs was a Stage Light and Magic Theatre Company presentation rated as an adults only show. As a work of proscenium theatre it added newness in performance, style, genre, and subject matter to Colombo's theatre scene of the day. The play consists of two characters; a nameless young man and a nameless young woman played respectively by Dino Corera and Tehani Chitty. Set in a completely white, bare set that has only a rectangular box at the centre as the only 'stage prop', and two doors on opposing sides for the players to make their occasional exits to allow the other, complete isolated moments onstage, the actors presented what was arguably an arduous task, given the spectrum of emotions they had to portray/deliver without the luxury of different players coming on stage at any point offering respite by diverting the spotlight away from the principal characters. Corera and Chitty, together with the director, Sashane Perera deserve robust applause for the task they accomplished commendably; and they most certainly were duly saluted that night by the audience.

Celebrity status

He is a musician who hasn't reached super rich celebrity status yet, and she is reading for a PhD and hopeful of having better employment prospects after completing her doctorate. And between them is a notable gap in intellectuality. It is one of the key grounds on which insecurities breed and to an extent sets the status quo of the psychological power play between them.

While watching Lungs I recalled a scene from Michael Ondaatje's novel The English Patient where the character of the thief David Caravaggio says to the Indian Kirpal Singh, with reference to Hana - "Could you fall in love with her if she wasn't smarter than you? I mean, she may not be smarter than you. But isn't it important for you to think she is smarter than you in order to fall in love?"

Throughout the entire play there is no change of scenery except what is inferred as a change of scene from the words and bodily nuances of the players. Their costumes do not change either. There is no change to their make-up to visually depict ageing. It is the dialogue, facial expressions, and body movement that speak of the passage of time and change of settings and progress of events.

From discussing about the prospect of parenthood, to conceiving, preparing for the impending parenthood, the miscarriage, the resultant benumbing inertia and the consequent breakdown in the relationship, and the turbulent path that paves the way for the eventual parenthood, and the end of their 'journey' are all narrated as a theatricalised verbal discourse between the two players whose physical interplay and dialogue 'depict' the change their inner selves go through, and thereby make representation of the passage of time and events. It's marvellous how sometimes a 'life' can be summed up through certain key moments being captured in a line or two. Our world of potent emotions and compelling events transcribed to language.

The Buddha, in the Samyuththa Nikaya (Connected Discourses) says "In this one-fathom long body with its perceptions and thoughts, do I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world and the path leading to the cessation of the world." Seeing how without the use of a single material implement, except for the clothing on their bodies, the two actors narrated through their words and their bodies an entire 'life' with its spectrum of anxieties, joys, sorrows, anger, frustrations, expectations, hopes, fears, hypocrisies, it seems the bodies of the players with all their capacities for (verbal and nonverbal) expression served to create the characters' 'world'.

The nameless man and woman seem to stand as more than two specific personae and able to represent symbolically predicaments faced by different persons when faced with the prospect of parenthood, especially if there is uncertainty and even insecurity underscoring their situation in life and relationship as a whole.

Apart from the economics that affect when a couple decides to start a family, a central concern of the couple is what sort of world is their child going to be born into and be part of? Why bring a child into a world that isn't full of sugar and spice and all that's nice? The world at large as perceived by the couple is besieged by terrorism, environmental destruction, and global warming and overall nastiness. But! What if their child becomes that beam of sunshine that leads the way for a revolution that clears all grey skies? The way in which hypothetical scenarios are conceived and arbitrarily deduced and calculated as probable outcomes by this couple in relation to issues that affect the world as much as themselves, is astounding. The extremes at which the two swing in their pessimism and idealism is astonishing, amusing, and shows as a couple of armchair eco-warriors at the outset, how their primary involvement is thinking, imagining and (rationally) conjecturing about dealing with the future (of parenthood) rather than dealing with it as they go on.

Emotional intelligence

Throughout the play one thing that struck me was that neither of them shows much emotional intelligence; and emotionally charged spontaneity seems to govern their lives despite the fact they seem to want to rationally plan for what is optimally salutary. How much of the pressing issues related to current global security actually gets calculated as part of the concerns that beleaguer a couple when planning to have a child? I believe it is reasonable to say, finding a Sri Lankan couple who would be seriously concerned with anything other than financial factors concerned with raising a child, would be a herculean task. In this sense when looking at the multi layered dilemma the couple in Lungs present, I wonder if all the massive concern about global security issues spirals out of a need to suppress as much as possible their own crippling insecurities of how doubtful they are about their capacity 'as a couple' to be successful parents? How concerned are these theory buffs in actuality about the ideals they assert humanity must live up to? When one follows the text of the play it is no untruth that Lungs does speak of the hypocrisy that lurks beneath the facade of contemporary western society with its discourse of altruistic selfless ideals claimed for the good of all humankind. What comes out after the miscarriage evinces how, when emotionally embittered through what appears an irreparable loss, bitter hate spews out without regrets, that shows little love for humanity.

On the aspect of stagecraft I felt the stark minimalism that was presented, the 'pervasive bareness' surrounding the actors on stage may even stand to signify in an abstract sense the 'barrenness' within the two of them at the outset, who although are biologically fertile, are somewhat infertile in conceiving a life of togetherness as a family in the traditional sense within the formalised institution of marriage.

Although the woman was the wronged one, towards the second phase of the development of their union, I couldn't help but see'toxicity' in the woman's character from the early stages of the play. Her character was brought to life in a way that made her seem the more emotionally needy and volatile one.

I dare say there were attributes that made her seem something of a 'pseudo feminist' at times.

Towards the end, as the final line, 'I love you' is spoken, you do realize that beneath it all were two characters who were on a trajectory of events and emotions that say they are after all, human. You will realize you have been in the grip of seeing their humanness at play. And at that singular moment you cannot help but feel love for them.



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