A winning comeback from ‘Ayeth enne ne’
By Marisa de Silva
Veteran English theatre Director cum thespian, Jerome L. de Silva has extended his talents to the Sinhala theatre and bagged the 'Best Overall Production and Director Award' for Ayeth enne ne, at the State Drama Festival last Sunday.

The play -- a translation of 'Widows', the parable of individual courage in the face of oppression, by Chilean playwright and novelist, Ariel Dorfman - won the award under the ‘full-length play’ category at the festival held at the John de Silva Memorial Hall.

The production was also presented with Awards for 'Best Translation' (Cyril Perera), 'Best Lighting' (Thushan Dias), 'Best Stage Management' (Ravindra Ariyaratna) and 'Best Supporting Actor -- Merit Award' (Sampath Jayaweera). It was nominated for the 'Best Director Award' (Jerome) and 'Best Supporting Actor and Actress Award' (Roshan Pilapitiya and Kusum Renu).

Having won the 'Best Choreography Award' for Dharmasiri Bandaranayake’s epic production Trojan Kanthawo at the Festival in 2000, this was Jerome's debut in directing a Sinhala production which premiered in December 2003 at the Elphinstone Theatre, with a re-run in February this year.

A challenge extended by Thushan to Jerome, he had only three months of rehearsal time with a cast of 21 professional actors and actresses to get the show on the road. However, with their professionalism, the actors and actresses made this seemingly mammoth task, an easy one, says Jerome, who has with him a signed copy of the script that Dorfman himself had given him, when he acted for him in Salzburg, Austria in 1996.

Set in a remote Chilean village, Ayeth enne ne, is a smouldering political allegory, where the men have disappeared from the war-torn village, leaving the women facing a long wait. It forms a testament to the disappeared and those living under totalitarian regimes the world over, who are taken away for "questioning" never to return. Striking not too far from home, this tale relates the story of seven women awaiting the return of their husbands, either afloat down the river or in the flesh. Although technically in the flesh, they are virtually dead. Only the outer shell of their husbands/beloveds return: soulless and empty as a result of being tortured or used as informants.

The story speaks of the autocratic rule of Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), who was recently indicted on charges of kidnapping and murder. One by one, the bodies wash up on the shore of the river and are claimed by the women, even though the faces of the dead men are unrecognizable. A tug-of-war ensues between the local police, who insist that the women could not possibly recognize their loved ones, and the women demanding the right to bury them. The stand-off reveals itself to be a power struggle between love, dignity and honour, and the lesser god of brute force-a lesson on how power really works and how it can be made to work differently.

Of this year's 71 entries under the ‘full-length plays’ category at the festival, 53 were original plays, 11 translations and seven adaptations. Twenty-six were selected for the second round and an eight-judge panel chose the winners of all the awards excluding the main Award for 'Best Overall Production and Director'. Thereafter, seven plays got into the final round, where a panel of five judges selected the overall winner. The final panel of judges from the field of Sinhala drama and literature comprised Premaranjith Thilakaratne (Chairman), Nalan Mendis, E.M.G. Edirisinghe, E.M.D. Upali and Ajantha Ranawaka.

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