21 November 2011

‘Suddek’ and the parameters of the theatrical

Jayalath Manoratne calls for the subversion of official transcripts
Sajith Baddewithana, Assistant Production Manager in and advertising agency, is not a theatre-goer.   He is a good friend and has a delightful sense of humour.  Sajith went to see a play recently.  The only reason as far as anyone could see was that it was written and directed by his friend and colleague, Udayasiri Wickramaratne.  We asked him whether he liked it and why. 

‘Niyama naatyayak (a great play)!his assessment was emphatic and final.  It was a set up.  He had to face a barrage of questions.
‘Is it really a play?’
He said ‘everyone says it is a good play.’ 
‘We are asking you and not everyone.  How can you say it is a play?’
‘There were actors and it was on a stage,’ he said rather uneasily.
‘If that is the criteria then all political rallies would be plays; there are scripts, actors and it’s all played out on stage.’
He went silent.  The questions didn’t stop.  Where is the dialogue?  Where is the dramatic tension?  How can three speeches constitute a play?  If this is a play then are we all acting all the time?’
Sajja is not into theatre.  He said ‘It’s a cost-cutting production; all the actors can be taken home in a three-wheeeler’. 
We all laughed.  The issue however is not funny.  It is about what kind of production is a play.  We were discussing Udayasiri Wickramaratne’s latest play ‘Suddek Oba Amathai’ or ‘A white man addresses you’, a production made of three parts, ‘Ithihaasaya oba amathai’ (history addresses you), ‘Sthriyak oba amathai’ (a woman addresses you) and ‘suddek oba amathai’.   A ‘play’ made of three soliloquys.  No dialogue. No interplay among characters.  No formal plot.  Some music. Some songs. A bit of dance.  Entertaining, yes.  A play, though?  Sajja thinks so, but he’s no expert. 
What is a play?  What is theatre?  What makes a stage production theatre? What are the rules? Who makes them?  These are the questions I took away from that exchange with Sajja, which I am sure some purists would say was more dramatic than the drama in ‘Suddek’.
Nalin Pradeep Udawelage awakens the 'Sudda' that the audience secretly nurtures within

A recent exchange between someone who was bemoaning the fact that Shakespeare was being played in modern costumes and even ‘Lankanized’ and Bridget Halpe, who had in fact been involved in such productions threw some light.  There are no rules about Shakespeare.  He is open to interpretation and therefore open to innumerable ways of portrayal.  If it entertains, if it captures the audience, throws some questions, leaves some unanswered, builds up tension, diffuses it in ways that illuminate something of the human condition, then in my book there’s enough drama.  Theory comes later.
About 20 years ago I was discussing the JVP with a friend and argued that they were huge theoretical holes in their arguments and that their actions went against theory.  He dismissed me, simply pointing out, ‘victory is never assured; if you win then method becomes theoretically valid’. 
How does art begin and how does it evolve?  There can be many pathways.  Lester James Peries referring to ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and an experimental film that led to a dozen people in the audience suffering epileptic fits observed that the genre was still in its infancy.  The artist by definition resists straitjacketing.   There are no high priests or commandments, no blasphemy and damnation.  In the end, it either works or fails, the public embraces or rejects.  Sometimes, it’s about timing.  What did not work yesterday might be a hit ten years down the road.  There’s no way to predict.  What seems logical is that there are no hard and fast rules and therefore no ‘qualification’ that helps separate ‘drama’ and ‘non-drama’.
As the world contract, we encounter different theatrical traditions.  There’s adoption, there’s fusion.  Both playwright and director have the license to experiment.  Some creations work in certain locations, but not in others.  There’s experimentation within particular schools of theatre too.  There’s, for example, a particularly ‘Brechtian’ flavor in street theatre, although it can be argued that street theatre predates Bertold Brecht.  Dr. Mark Amarasinghe had come up with ‘single-actor’ dramas.  Wilson Gunaratne came up with a highly popular play where he himself played 7 characters.  All plays, all dramatic, all ‘legitimate’ theatre. 
What is important, I believe, is whether or not the particular production is dramatic, has dramatic tension and entertains.  ‘Suddek’ is made of soliloquys.  It has been crafted in a way that although characters don’t interact with each other, the particular actor interacts with the audience, very much in line with the traditional art of story-telling, which of course does not lack drama.  ‘Suddek’, moreover, germinates in the audience a certain tension, both in the then-and-there and afterwards too.  As for dialogue, one can think of mimes and Charlie Chaplin’s masterpieces during the era of silent movies. 
It all depends, then, on what’s done and how, on the playing and the provocations, the tightness of script and the effectiveness of portrayal. 
‘Suddek’ raises ‘theatrical’ questions, perhaps, because it is a ‘first time’ thing.  This is always the case when the bold choose to experiment.  Udayasiri is a brave dramatist.  ‘Suddek’ not only provoked debate and discussion due to its content, but has opened the doors to a larger discussion on form and style. 
Time will tell what kind of impact it has on Sinhala theatre and indeed theatre in general. One thing is certain.  It held Sajja captive for a couple of hours.  That’s something.



sandika said...

One way or the other, we all play a role or a part of some drama group. Some dramas I believe not written or directed by any of the famous dramatics but by us.

Then there is this ‘stage dramas’ some win awards for acting or directing or for other.

There are some other dramas that are acting or playing behind the stages … some sing, some cry, some dance, some cheat, it include all sorts of actions ….

How can we forget the ‘rukada’ I think these also shown on a stage but someone else has the authority to maintain or the use them or the actors the way they want.

The audience I believe is so powerful than the people who are involved in the drama group. They have the authority to reject or to embrace.

Happy to see that these days or the month or the year there are a lot of dramas written and played here and there I think we still need to do a lot of home work to reach to the golden era in the field of stage drama like in some golden years of our history.

But I strongly believe that none of us can name any drama that is shown or played in the history that was 100% successful in acting or in directing in this beautiful form of art called ‘stage drama’ or I do not think that we can easily find any actors or directors that are 100 % successful in the real dramas in real lives. …..

This is an excellent article that leads my thoughts to many directions of human lives.

Pamodhi Kuruppu said...

good stuff :). it just made me watch some dramas. The last I watched was " Andarela" an year ago.

Pamodhi Kuruppu said...

Good stuff :) I haven't watched any drama lately. The last was an year ago. It was Manoratne's "Andarela"

Anonymous said...

As the Bard elucidated,

'All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,'