ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 34

Dose of cynical satire

By Vidushi Seneviratne

Literally walking into a rehearsal of the latest thespian innovation to hit Colombo, it was interesting to note the mix of intensity and informality in the atmosphere. To top it all off, the cast member accompanying me, went from having a perfectly normal conversation, to delving unannounced into his character, and joining the scene being rehearsed! Just a taste of the extremely original action promised when The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol, is performed at the Lionel Wendt from January 26 to 28 at 7.30pm.

Pix by Mettasena

"We have worked out the different aspects of the play and the context is essentially extremely broad-based," said Thushara Hettihamu (better known as Hetti to most), the director of the production. "Though the core of the plot relates to the original script and has been retained, numerous topical references have been made, enabling the play to fit into basically any location, and so, not limiting it. The plot has been tightened, and since it is farcical for most part, it borders on the absurd."

Highlighting the dual playing level in most characters, Hetti went on to explain this theatre tool is used in some instances, for impact. "For instance, though what these characters are saying is obviously absurd, they firmly believe it is right. This type of over playing or overt expression is quite successful in such a political satire." According to him, yet another quality of the characters in the play is the fact that though they are very real, they also have a caricature element to them, bordering on being cartoonish.

Kidnapping a few cast members during the rehearsal, we got a bit of perspective on how they see the men and women they are bringing to life. "My character is essentially two-dimensional – one aspect being highly melo-dramatic and flustered, and the other being extremely tyrannical and controlling. Being the mayor of a small town, my character is used to controlling the destiny of everyone else in the town, and it's almost like a mafia," says Zaiqi Nizar.


He went onto describe his character as insincere, generally pretending to seem anguished about the rest of the town, but not really meaning it. "And when suddenly there is a new threat of a Government Inspector from the central government coming in, he is challenged, but turns it around to his benefit," he said, adding that this was the first time he was playing a lead, and was quite a bit nervous about it.

As for Khlestakov, the character at the centre of the theme of mistaken identity, he can be best described as a provincial kid who thinks too much of himself. "He stumbles upon this town by chance, and basically makes the best of the situation. He tries to dazzle everyone and doesn't know how to handle the situation, most often pushes it to the limit." says Anisha Yasaratne, adding that the dual dimension to his character is the portrayal of the real Khlestakov, and the fake one. With the entire town believing that he is the real Government Inspector, he takes maximum advantage of the situation, ultimately has to give the farce up.

Speaking to the two leading ladies in the cast, a bit of insight into being invited to act alongside this diverse, all-male production was gained. "I know a couple of these guys, and so was happy to accept the invitation to act with them, and the experience has been great! Just look around, and you'll see what I mean!" said Keshanee Gunawardena, who plays Anna, the role of the Mayor's wife, pointing at a guitar jamming session going on in the next room, courtesy the cast. "As for my role, she is a middle-aged woman who is still trapped in her youth, and so is fiercely jealous of her young daughter." And when Khlestakov enters the town, she sees it as a great opportunity to spice up her otherwise mundane life.


For Anushka Gunawardena, who has the privilege of being the youngest member of cast and is still schooling, being a part of the production will surely be a fulfilling experience. "I play Maria, a naïve, not-so-intelligent, self absorbed girl. Living in this town where nothing exciting really happens, when a handsome guy just appears out of nowhere, she obviously gets very excited. She probably falls in love with him even before seeing him!" Many cat fights between mother and daughter ensue, and the only bonding they ever do is when they drool over Khlestakov, together!

Managing to get a hold of a few more characters who lend humour and cynicism to the production, during the hectic photo shoot going on, we next got a glimpse of Osip, the fake Government Inspector's servant. "Even he does not take Khlestakov seriously, but plays along with the mix up, because there is money involved. Just like his master, he too makes the most of the situation, especially playing on the Mayor's gullibility and so on. My character is basically cynical and sarcastic, but tries to come across as serious," said Sajith Amendra

Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky are two of the most entertaining roles, and as described by the cast members playing the parts, sort of like a "Thompson and Thompson." "The two of them are cousins and landlords, but not very rich. They are confused and muddled about most things, most of the time," says Dobchinsky, played by Ruminda Herat Guneratne. "They generally bring all the news to the rest of the town, even the news regarding the Government Inspector visiting," says Chinthu Viswakula, who plays Dobchinsky. "They have some side comment to make regarding everything, and they disagree on everything, with my character normally over ruling the Dobchinsky.


According to Hetti, a few well-known individuals in the drama world will be playing cameo roles in the production. “It is great that people like Arjuna Wignarajah, with much theatre experience both here and abroad, will be a part of this production.”

So come next weekend, head over to Wendt and let the Government Inspector treat you to a dose of cynical satire, accompanied with just the right amount of realistic humour. The production is presented by the Old Royalists' Association of Dramatists, together with The Royal College Union While the principal sponsor for the production is NDB Bank, electronic media sponsors are MTV and NBS Radio network, and print media sponsors are the Daily Mirror and The Sunday Times. Tickets are now available at the Wendt, and special parking is arranged at Royal College, Colombo 7.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.