Surely, he wasn’t dying in front of us?!
When Mohamed Adamaly collapsed on stage during his introductory speech, a collective gasp revealed what none of us had realised – that the play had already begun. But before anyone could cry ‘doctor,’ the lights dimmed, and a fully recovered Adam stood up to take his seat opposite Shanaka Amarasinghe – who appeared to be a policeman of some kind. When Adam revealed himself to be a lawyer, the fun began in earnest. Quite obviously playing to stereotypes, playwright David Mamet had ensured that your sympathies would lie with neither – having to choose between the one who was wily and corrupt and the other who was an uninspired drudge, you could instead opt to mock both.
This is how we found ourselves cast as the observers of what was surely the most maddening interview ever, one that did not so much meander as criss-cross at right angles. Veering away from the question of who buried the lawnmower, it headed off into a meditation on the nature of truth, all the while becoming increasingly disjointed. So much so that at several points, both characters and audience had no idea of what exactly was being discussed. It was the kind of play where you might have needed to offer the occasional audience cue: ‘please laugh now.’ But this is not a criticism of this production – there’s a reason Mamet is said to be an acquired taste. When the twist comes, it’s more than worth the wait.
Though Adam and Shanaka remained in profile throughout most of the piece, they were both very engaging. Watching Shanaka’s impassive, occasionally confused expression inspire Adam to verbal acrobatics was more than half the fun. The second in the set, Elaine May’s ‘Hotline’ unfortunately, didn’t work as well. Samantha de S. Wijeyratne, though clearly an accomplished actress, could have profited from more direction. Her portrayal of Dorothy - a disturbed woman contemplating suicide - lacked consistency.
To be fair, Dorothy’s monologue could have really used some judicious editing. Her side of the ‘conversation’ with Ken (Ruvin De Silva) a counsellor at a suicide centre seemed interminable, dragging the audience into the depths of despair alongside her. The comedic element was supplied almost entirely by Ruvin’s character - with its physical, raucous humour his was the easier of the two roles to do justice to. Even the sets seemed to conspire against them, every time a door was slammed shut, the ‘walls’ rocked so much they were in danger of falling down.
The last in the series, Woody Allen’s ‘Central Park West,’ was my favourite script of the lot. Still, if you’ve ever thought that you would have preferred to read the script rather than watch it enacted, you’d understand how I felt then. Caught up in an adulterous pentagon, Fazeeha Shohorab, Tehani Welgama, Anoushka Senanayake, Delon Weerasinghe and Shanaka spewed malice and flirted with physical violence in Central Park West. However, without ever slipping up obviously, the cast managed to appear somewhat unrehearsed. I kept losing track of the dialogue, as words were swallowed whole or delivered at a register unsuited for human ears.
In the end, the Broken Leg Theatre Company and director Delon deserve praise for their decision to stage the trio of one act plays that make up ‘Death Defying Acts’. In this town, it probably takes nerves of steel to produce comedies that abandon slapstick humour for sophistication...but such adventurousness should ideally be accompanied by equally high standards of production, which in this case, it was not.