“Look Back in Love” – An engaging monodrama

By Seneka Abeyratne

Mark Amerasinghe is widely regarded as one of Sri Lanka’s finest surgeons (now retired). It is the same Mark Amerasinghe who writes and performs high-quality monodramas in English. I do not know of any other Sri Lankan who does so. Indeed, I consider him the unsung hero of the local English drama scene.

The eleven monodramas he has written and performed to date are all adapted from well-known French literary works. The eleventh, Look Back in Love, was recently staged at the Alliance Francaise de Kandy. This engaging monodrama, performed by the author himself, is based on an adaptation of his translation of Jean Cocteau’s original script of the black and white French Film, Orphée (screened in 1960). The movie, set in the 1950s, was inspired by the celebrated Greek legend, Orpheus, but differed from it in many respects, including the ending. The legend has a sad ending whereas the movie (a modernized version) concludes on a happy note.

Great skill: Mark Amerasinghe in his Kandy performance

In Look Back in Love, the narrator is Jean Cocteau – played by the creator of the monodrama. What a clever innovation this was!

The performance itself was something to behold. For about 75 minutes (on the trot), the narrator held the audience spellbound with his fine acting and adroit manipulation of space and time. As soon as the play began, we entered the bewitching world of Greek mythology and remained there till it ended. Mind you, the storyteller had no script in his hands; it was all in his head – the plot, the scenes, the prose, the dialogue – and how nonchalantly he drifted in and out of the supernatural world!

The story was captivating and it was with great skill and imagination that the author blended narrative and dialogue to create a cohesive and absorbing piece of monodrama. The attention paid to the contextual elements of Cocteau’s script is a noteworthy aspect of the play, which, like the movie, is a delicious blend of myth and modernism. Creative writing and acting involve two different sets of artistic skills, and Mark Amerasinghe is blessed with both. I should add that he directed the play as well. It was in every respect, a one-man show.

The narrator (who is in his mid-eighties) walked and spoke slowly on the stage, which was divided by tassels into this world and the other world; but his voice was steady and his projection, very good. We heard every word and marvelled at how he enriched his storytelling with the judicious use of intonations, facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Whenever he paused and looked at the audience with that mischievous gleam in his eyes, we knew that something dramatic was about to happen.

We were never disappointed, for those calculated pauses were invariably followed by an intriguing piece of action or turn of events. We had to imagine everything, of course, for we were not watching the movie; we were watching the narrator; and here he was, stepping into Cocteau’s shoes and unfolding the plot scene by scene while simultaneously playing multiple roles – Orpheus, Eurydice, the Princess, Heurtebise, and Cegeste, to name a few. Amazing!

This is not to say the performance was flawless. There was the occasional slip-up which did not go unnoticed. Never mind. Mark Amerasinghe did his thing with such flair and passion that we hung on every word. There was never a dull moment, for so smooth and eloquent was the script as well as the acting. All in all, a magical and unforgettable evening.

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