Ernest MacIntyres "The Education of Miss Asia was put on the boards at the E.O.E. Pereira Theatre, at Peradeniya University on the 14th and 15th of June. The play was staged by Stage2 & Set - a revival of Maclntyres own theatre group of the sixties. This is a review of the performance of Sunday, June 15.
Written by Sri Lankas best playwright, Ernest MacIntyre, in 1971, the play deals with the coaching of a beauty queen: Marlene Perera of Bolawalana, who has just won the Miss Asia contest. The coaching is done by an eminent Bengali professor; R.Chaudharibhoy, who has been engaged by Hector (Marlenes father) to "awaken her intellectual and emotional responses to the continent she represents.
The coaching is intended to prepare Marlene for the Miss World finals in London, where the judgement will be 50% on beauty, and 50% for the candidates emotional and intellectual responses to the continent she represents.
Prof.Chaudharibhoys coaching is dramatically successful in awakening Marlenes latent sensitivity to the tragedy of the Asian condition - malnutrition, illiteracy, and overpopulation, coupled with natural and man-made disasters - the flood ravages in Bangladesh, the great famine of Bihar, the ashes of Hiroshima, the bloody revolutions in Indonesia, etc.
In fact, he is so successful that Marlene rejects the idea of beauty contests and their social cotext as "fraud and hypocrisy on the part of the organizers.
scene from the play
MacIntyre, in his inimitable style, uses many dramatic devices to bring laughter, pathos, high drama and love into the play. A wry socio-political commentary on the Asian condition is cleverly clothed in the plot of Marlenes "education and in the manner in which her relationships with her family, friends, fiance and teacher develop during the course of the play.
The play itself, directed by Harin Corea, was a remarkably slick and technically precise production, resulting in a very enjoyable evening of theatre. The alternating pin-drop silences and guffaws of laughter clearly indicated that the audiences attention was held throughout the play. No easy task for a play of two and half hours in length. It should be noted, that, reading MacIntyre is easy as opposed to performing MacIntyre.
Watching the production, it was clearly evident that the script had undergone much experimentation, subtle editing and diligent work. It would have been all too easy to runaway with a slapstick interpretation of the play. But instead, the play projected well at three levels: The basic plot of the events surrounding a beauty queen was entertaining in its own right.
At the next level was the awakening of the audiences consciousness to the tragedies of the Asian condition. And on the final level - mainly in the third act, the audience was exposed to a very touching revelation of the Asian philosophies of the impermenance and irrelevance of life.
The performance demonstrated a great technical competence in basic stagecraft and a thorough understanding of the "psychology of the stage on the part of the director. The movement, positioning, and body language of the actors blended very effectively with judicious use of sets, lighting and pleasing costumes to bring out the subtle nuances of a very difficult play.
Hector was played by Sameera Athapattu. For a young actor, Sameera showed great potential in a commendable performance. Perhaps, if he had been more flexible; a jovial, showy Colombo gentleman turned rich overnight role, his performance might have been enhanced. In the first act he seemed slightly restricted and stiff. This gradually wore off as the play progressed. No doubt, a very creditable effort.
To portray the simple and thoughtful mother, Violet, (Syamaine Hettiarachchi) was a good supporting actress. She contributed to the excitement and momentum of the play and held up her end well. Despite her dimunitive size, she projected a strong stage presence and clear diction.
Mark Amerasinghe as Oliver played a deceptively vital role that helped to lay the foundation of the play. In very smooth style, the background of Miss Asia was fed to the audience with ease. His dynamic stage presence and voice projection greatly enhanced his performance.
Marlene (Sunethra Waidyasekera) had very little to say, despite her being the subject of the play! This resulted in a very demanding role for Sunethra, in which she succeeded to a great extent. However, as a result of MacIntyres script, she was not quite able to come into her own. Nevertheless, she managed to bring out some subtle changes in her character despite the lack of effective lines in her part.
Sanjeeva Balasuriya gave an exquisitely convincing performance as Raasagoola Chaudharibhoy, the comic actor passing off as an University professor and Sanjeeva seemed very comfortable in a truly demanding role. It could not have been an easy task to maintain the very convincing Calcutta accent (although there were a couple of minor slips!). Sanjeeva pulled off MacIntyres truly outrageous lines without degenerating into farce. He managed to strike a delicate balance between comedy and tragedy in a near professional performance. As he put it in the play, "there is always the comic in the tragic and the tragic in the comic.
Alfred and George, played by Achala Navaratna and Chamila Bandara were faced with the daunting task of being on stage for forty five minutes without speaking a word! They managed well and brought in their share of comic relief to the performance. In conclusion, it must be said that the audience was rewarded with a well directed, excellent piece of theatre. MacIntyre would have been proud! Stage2 & Set, we hope this is just a beginning!
- The Don
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