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13th September 1998

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Leo will be here!

It's official. After months of speculation and ru mour, Leonardo DiCaprio has finally decided what his next film is going to be. It's The Beach, adapted from Alex Garland's best seller, to be directed by Danny Boyle, produced by Andrew MacDonald and written by John Hodge, the acclaimed Trainspotting trio. Leo plays a rootless traveller who is given a hand-drawn map to paradise that was scrawled by a madman. Originally set to star the team's favoured actor Ewan McGregor, The Beach will start filming in January on location in Sri Lanka. (Film Review)

Ready for murder

They thought that it was just another dress rehearsal. But it ended in.... murder!

Theatre goers in Colombo are in for a treat as Indu Dharmasena, versatile playwright and director, presents another innovative production from September 18-20 and 25- 27.

Drawing inspiration from none other than the Queen of Crime - Agatha Christie - but creating her own ''criminal acts'' to suit a Sri Lankan audience, Indu is ready to take the stage with a brand-new murder mystery, ''Dress Rehearsal.''

The story begins with an intrepid Mr.Surasena, Sri Lanka's eminent criminal lawyer, being asked by a group of quarrelling, less-than-talented amateur actors to view a rehearsal of their play.

Everybody's in for a rude shock when one of the players drops dead during the rehearsal. No one suspects foul play due to his age and state of health until a healthy and wealthy heiress dies under similar circumstances....! Mr. Surasena sets out to unravel the mystery behind the deaths of two innocent people.

The cast comprises a group of talented actors, namely Vinod Senadeera, Krys Sosa, Marissa Jansz, Delon Weerasinghe, Shabry Fuard, Ruhani Perera, Thulitha Piyasena, Anusha Fonseka and Jineshi Samaraweera with Indu Dharmasena as the clever elderly lawyer.

The music matters

By Mary Anne David and Louis Roberts

Jerome L. De Silva's recent production of Leonard Bernstein's musical West Side Story reflected the exuberance and energy of its cast. Performances by Dinushi Perera, Krishan Jayaratnam and Suren de S Wijeratne in song, dance and acting on Friday were remarkable. Most impressive were the duet Tonight and the chorus Gee! Officer Krupke.

The dramatic characterisations of Adam Adamally in the role of "Doc" and the all-round talents of Samantha de S Wijeratne were outstanding and brought cohesiveness and fluidity throughout. The sets and costumes were first-class, the choreography imaginative and innovative. The Workshop Players must be applauded for their dedication and commitment so evident in previous productions as well.

With so much emphasis brought to the dramatic aspects of this production, little attention was paid to the essence: the music, the critical element which made this a "musical". Jerome de Silva's recognised strength lies in direction and choreography. Shortly after commencement, it became obvious the musical elements had been cursorily treated, even neglected. In a musical, this is tantamount to a cardinal sin. Inspite of this, it became clear that Sanjeev Jayaratnam's capabilities as a choral director are undoubted and we commend his choral direction in this his debut production. Perhaps, Sanjeev could have directed the Quintet Tonight as Bernstein had originally composed it. By doubling and trebling Anita and Maria's lines, he lost the harmonies and the effect of the quintet.

It was unfortunate that the genius of Leonard Bernstein was corrupted by Dilup Gabadamudalige's feeble interpretation of the music. Either the music score was not made available to him or he was overwhelmed by the intricacies of Bernstein's lavish harmonies. The contrast between the excerpts from the original soundtrack (the overture, Dance at the GYM, ballet sequence) and tracks developed by Dilup was unmistakable and grating because of the discordant chord structures.

One could not be surprised that the singers, who made valiant efforts to stay in pitch, found this challenge sometimes beyond them. On occasion when they succeeded, the voices invariably clashed with the discordant chords. Further, the rhythms developed by Dilup, especially in the chorus America, were simply incorrect. One questions why this popular chorus was sung in unison and not in the harmonies originally written.

Jehan Aloysius, as Tony was disappointing. He appears to be typecast. In this crucial singing role, he clearly lacked the upper register and has developed a vibrato, which may be intentional or otherwise. If this was meant to be fashionable, it failed. It only interfered with his breath control and phrasing. It was also evident he had difficulty in maintaining his line of music in the duet One Hand, One Heart.

The attention paid to dramatic detail was meticulous and contributed to building an emotional climax. It was a pity the cast was encouraged, in full view of the audience, to engage in raucous exchange of congratulations right after the curtain call. This only sullied the production and stole from the mood created by the emotional dramatisation of Tony's death.

Today's theatre audiences are intelligent and discerning more so when it is a popular musical such as this. Despite the overall dramatic effect, the lukewarm applause at the end of the performance was indicative that the production fell far short of being a "musical" .

The end result failed to justify the colossal investment, particularly financial, and live up to the expectations generated by the wide publicity. In the final analysis, West Side Story differed little in quality from recent school musicals.

Kala Corner

A great literary figure

"A man of his era who realised the needs of the times and fulfilled his obligations to the fullest." That is how the service of patriot, journalist, novelist and freedom fighter Piyadasa Sirisena was summed up by Dr. C. Ananda Grero delivering the memorial oration to mark his 132nd birth anniversary recently.

"It was an era when the Sinhalese felt it a disgrace to call himself a Sinhalese. There was no place in society for what was indigenous. Instead everyone was aping the west. Western customs and traditions were followed to the hilt, preference was for the western style of dress, foreign names took the place of indigenous names. English was preferred to Sinhala which was considered the language of the godayas or the rural folk," was how Dr. Grero described the period that Piyadasa Sirisena lived.

Piyadasa Sirisena's was a varied contribution. Born on August 31, 1875 at Aturuwella near Induruwa down south, he moved to Colombo in 1895 and began his career as a journalist. He was a sub-editor in the journal, Situmina, started five years earlier by Irwin Gunawardena. Soon he shifted to Sarasavi Sandaresa under Hemachandra Sepala Perera. The duties of a journalist went far beyond what it is today. It was his responsibility to write articles, get others to write, canvass readers, collect subscriptions and sell the journal. This was exactly what Piyadasa Sirisena did, both at Sarasavi Sandaresa and Sinhala Jatiya which he joined in 1909. In between he had started a magazine on his own also called Sinhala Jatiya with the objective of "eliminating divisions, building a love for the nation, protecting customs and traditions and hitting at misconduct." He was also the editor of "Sinhala Bauddhaya" started in 1906. He concentrated on promoting national culture and heritage while presenting contemporary news and views to the readers. Two more newspapers were started by him- Hithavadi (1919) and Parakrama (1929).

Starting with Jayatissa Saha Rosalin (also called Vasanavatha Vivahaya -Happy marriage) in 1904, he wrote a number of novels "to lead the Sinhalese reader on the correct path." Me Taruniyakage Premay (1910) was intended to promote the virtues of a female. In Vimalatissa Hamuduruwange Mudal Pettiya.(1919) his strategy was to use the novel as a medium to promote views on politics, economic development, good conduct, and patriotism among the average reader.

Piyadasa Sirisena totally rejected the popular saying Sinhalaya Modaya, Kevum Kanda Yodaya. Instead he gave hope to the nation by reminding that the Sinhalese belonged to a proud nation which could boast of great deeds like building ocean like tanks, constructing huge dagabas, carving massive rock statues, painting Sigiriya frescoes and learning Buddhist scriptures and many a form of art.

Dr. Grero in his address titled "The era of Piyadasa Sirisena & his service to the nation" spelt out in detail the contribution he made towards the struggle for freedom, the fruits of which he could not enjoy since he passed away on May 22 1946.

Enthusiastic response

The Piyadasa Sirisena Commemoration Soci ety was more than happy at the turnout at the memorial oration by Dr. Grero, retired judge of the Court of Appeal. These included leading figures in the academic and professional fields and senior public officials. The meeting was presided over by Sam Wijesinha, former Secretary-General of Parliament.

"Not many come to listen to these orations. But the fact that 52 years after his death, so many were keen to hear about him was an indication that his services are still being appreciated," The Society's secretary Jagath Savanadasa, a grandson of Piyadasa Sirisena said.

Drama review

Odd, odder and oddest

By Sujit Sivasundaram

"More Oddities" by Absurd Inc- One for the Road by Harold Pinter and Mother Figure by Alan Ayckbourne were staged at the The British Council recently

There could have been no more suitable title for this offering at the British Council Theatre than "More Oddities." From the very outset there was nothing certain or explained in either the Pinter script or the Ayckbourne, only questions and more questions piled in a chaotic heap.

The Pinter saw the cruel persecution of a three member family in what was described as a "god-fearing" country; whilst the Ayckbourne witnessed the discovery of a child-complex in two grown adults at the hands of the mothering instincts of their neighbour. Now brace yourself for the barrage of questions that bombarded me as I walked out of the British Council Theatre: Who was the family in the Pinter and what was the agenda of their persecutors? Were the latter religious fanatics or political dictators or something in between? Similarly, who was insane in the Ayckbourne? Was Lucy (the mother) a "nutter" as her neighbour described her? Or were her neighbours regressive adults? Why, or why did nothing make sense?

If the characters were odd, this was a production that seemed to fit in oddly with Sri Lankan culture. As an attentive ear to the very audible audience whispers during the Pinter informed me, "This is not as funny as the one last year, no?"

That said, there were many interesting parallels and my guess is that Sri Lankan political history would have emerged at least briefly in the thoughts of most viewers. There was less "oddness" in the assimilation of the Ayckbourne and this was evident in the relieved laughter that greeted this performance. This was despite the fact that the Pinter was the stronger of the two. Sanjeev Samarasekera was convincing in his role as the interrogator Nicholas. "The voice of god speaks through me," he said; and this did seem to be the case as he exploded into aggression with the aid of a well used rod. Here was sadism built on an evil laugh moderated by a coolly manipulative air. Samarasinghe was enjoying himself. As far as interaction with other players went, the best cohesion was with Gila played by Shevanthie de Alwis.

In all then, this was a performance that left the desired "odd" after taste. Just about as "odd" as you would expect given the scripts, the audience background and the title. However, the most incomprehensible aspect of the evening was the whispered running commentary of the spectators in the row in front of me. "Odd, odder and oddest" is all I can say.


Good mix from Vishva Lekha

It's heartening to see such a vast array of books appearing at regular intervals for the reading pleasure of the Sinhala reading public. Almost all publishers put out new books regularly. The recent release of eight books by Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha Publishers was a good mix of subjects.

Bauddha Prajatantravadaya, the Sinhala version of Professor Nandasena Ratnapala's Buddhist Democratic Theory & Practice (written by the author himself) is among the new publications. He says it's not a translation of the English work but prefers to call it an attempt to present the same facts in Sinhala having formed his thoughts in Sinhala.

The book discusses the theory and practice of politics based on the teachings of the Buddha. The author hopes that the book will help in formulating a democracy that will identify human qualities based on Buddhist thought.

Eminent ballet producer Premakumara Epitawela (best remembered for Thitta Batha & Selalihini Sandesaya) discusses the history and legend of the Yakkha tribe in Kohomba Kamkariyen Helivana Sangavunu Karunu. The author describes the Kohomba Kankariya as a ritual which moulded the history of the entire Sinhala nation rather than a mere ceremonial dance ritual for King Panduvas Dev, as is commonly believed.

Amaradasa Gunawardena's translations of Ryunosuke Akutagava's short stories - Japan Keti Katha - appear after a lapse of over three decades. The collection includes Rashoman, which was turned into a classic by the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurasawa. The book includes a note on contemporary Japanese literature by Professor Sarachchandra and the illustrations are by Mahagama Sekera done when the book came out as a Saman publication in 1962. Guvanviduliya, Rupavahiniya, Janathava is the title of a collection of articles written by by media man Chandrasoma Vithanage (presently Deputy Director-General, Productions at SLRC) on the effects of the printed media, radio and television on the masses.

Twenty biographical sketches written by another media man Tilakaratne Kuruwita Bandara (editor, Sarasaviya) are presented in Sirith Maldama. These include the biographies of eminent statesmen, philosophers, composers & singers, sportsmen, scientists and writers. It's a useful book for easy reference for those interested in famous personalities.

Another journalist and professional photographer Wimalasiri Jayalath's second short story collection comes out under the title Pipunu Atteriya Mal Suvandak (Fragrance of blooming flowers). The stories are based on child characters or child experiences. However, the author believes they will appeal to all readers.

Vishva Lekha introduces a new writer, Lekha Lekamge who presents her maiden collection of creative writings for young ones in Hada Athi Rekha. Young love, forms the theme of most of her stories, which are written in a simple readable style. Yamuna Malini Perera who has made a name for herself as a lyric writer for new wave singers and an award winning poetess has written her maiden novel for young adults titled Sihinayata Samudi. It is the story of an adopted child whose life changes after a child is born to the foster mother.

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