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Modern Sri Lankan Drama (An Old Book)

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Item Code: NAS414
Author: D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Language: English
Edition: 1991
ISBN: 817030251X
Pages: 240
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 390 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

This anthology seeks to capture the achievement of Sri Lankan drama in English. This drama offers a variety of styles ranging from social satire to experimental and futuristic theatre. It covers a whole range of subjects from loneliness and violence, through acquisitiveness and commercialism, to technological development. Its significance transcends the narrowly Sri Lankan.

The editor contributes a substantial and perceptive Introduction, placing this drama in its con-text and providing critical guidance to its appreciation.

About the Author

D.C.R.A. GOONETILLEKE is Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. He obtained his Ph.D. on a Commonwealth Scholarship at the University of Lancaster and has been a Visiting Scholar in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge as well as a Fellow Commoner of Churchill College, Cambridge. He also held the Foundation Visiting Fellowship of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and has been awarded a Henry Charles Chapman Visiting Fellowship by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. His books include Developing Countries in British Fiction, Images of the Raj and Joseph Conrad : Beyond Culture and Background.


Modern Sri Lankan Drama is a companion volume to my earlier anthologies Modrn Sri Lankan Stories and Modern Sri Lankan Poetry and completes the total impression of Sri Lankan literature in English which I set out to give. In the earlier anthologies, my main criterion for selection of material was achieved excellence but, in this anthology, my criteria are more complex. As any anthologist would like to do, I have chosen extracts and plays of interest. Drama in English in Sri Lanka, however, is at a developmental stage and, therefore, I have thought it important to give an overall view of it and also provide a basis for future creativity. This anthology has another special feature. Several plays are published here for the first time, while others have been taken from the generally inaccessible past issues of a journal and extracts taken from out-of-print, difficult-to-come-by books.

The picture of Sri Lankan drama in English in the last sixty years is complex. Several trends are discernible as from the 1930s and they take place concurrently here, though in Australia these tended to succeed one another. British touring companies staged British and American plays in Sri Lanka and the trend still continues. Performances range from memorable experiences and lessons in serious professional production such as the Ox-ford Playhouse's The Tempest in the 1960s; the clever, hilarious, modern-dress version of A Midsummer Night's Dream presented by Cheek-by-Jowl in 1986; to the merely competent such as The London Shakespeare Group's Twelfth Night in 1983 and even the downright poor such as The Watermill Theatre's The Merchant of Venice in 1984. Expatriate groups stage British and American plays for a mixed audience of fellow expatriates and Sri Lankans, and usually purvey light entertainment. The performances of And so to Bed (1959) and A Little Bit of Fluff (1969) by the Ceylon Amateur Dramatic Club are typical of this trend. It persists today with the Colombo Amateur Dramatic Society, preoccupied with American drama yet not having gone beyond Neil Simon's comedies. The International Theatre Group, which was as important as the Ceylon Amateur Dramatic Club in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, does not quite fit this category in that its key membership consisted of both expatriates and Ceylonese and in that, while much of its fare was of the same kind, it did venture at times to put on serious drama. Thus, its productions included, on the one hand, Charley's Aunt (1953), Black Chiffon (1955), Blithe Spirit (1957), and, on the other, Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon (1954) and The Waltz of the Toreadors (1959), and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (1968). The I.T.G. was even prepared to 'go native' and presented Professor Ludowyk's adaptation of Pinero's Dandy Dick, titled Mr. Nidikumba (1957), but this was exceptional.

Local groups stage British, American and other foreign plays. The heyday of this trend was in the 1930s, 40s and early 50s, when the Ceylon University Dramatic Society under the guidance of Professor E.F.C. Ludowyk dominated the theatre scene. The outstanding productions were Ludowyk's of Marco Millions by Eugene O'Neill (1942) and Jubal's of Lower Depths by Maxim Gorki, yet the general level was high and the productions (not all directed by Ludowyk) spanned an impressive range from Sheridan's The Rivals (1934) and Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid (1935) to Ibsen's The Pillars of Society (1946), Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan (1949), Anouilh's Antigone (1950) and The Insect Play by the Capeks (1953). This trend was continued in the 1960s and 70s by a host of theatre groups such as the short-lived Little Theatre Group with its presentations of Anouilh's The Lark (1962), Giraudoux's Tiger at the Gates (1962), Shakespeare's Macbeth and Sophocles' Oedipus Rex; by the Aquinas Dramatic Society with its productions of Moliere's Tartuffe (1963), Ibsen's The Wild Duck (1964), Chekov's The Three Sisters (1967) and Brecht's Galileo (1969); and above all by Stage and Set with its productions of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1966), Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1966) and The Crucible (1967), Shakespeare's Othello (1968), Hamlet (1973) and Julius Caesar (1979). This trend extends to the 1980s, with productions such as Strindberg's Miss Julie (1982), Brecht's Mother Courage (1982), Beckett's Waiting for Godot (1985) and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (1987), but the unsettled state of the country drastically reduced theatrical production during this decade.

It is important to observe that Stage and Set is larger than the category to which I have assigned it. This group made possible Ernest Maclntyre's achievement as a thoroughly local playwright and brought about a creative collaboration between the English and Sinhalese language theatres in its time. It presented the Chitrasena Dance Ensemble in a splendid festival of oriental dance and ballet in 1966, sponsored Chandrasena Dassanayake's successful satirical piece in Sinhala on the United Nations Organisation, Andi Tikai Ambalamai, in 1968; its actors participated in both Henry Jayasena's enormously successful adaptation into Sinhala of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle titled Hunuwataye Kathawa and Maclntyre's production in English of the same play. In fact, in May 1967, the Sinhala and English productions of Brecht's play were staged on alternate days, providing a rare feast for play-goers. In the 1980s, this kind of collaboration was attempted only by a solitary in-dividual, Richard de Zoysa, whose shocking murder in 1990 brought his promising career to an untimely end. Stage and Set also performed original local plays in English - Gamini Gunawardena's Rama and Sita in 1965, Maclntyre's own plays, The Full Circle of Caucasian Chalk in 1967, The President of the O.B.A. in 1970 and The Education of Miss Asia in 1971.

The most important trend from the point of the development of Sri Lankan drama in English is that of local playwrights writing original plays in English and having them performed by locals - as from the 1930s. As Lakshmi de Silva points out, they stuck firmly to two genres - one, the dramatisation of history and legend, and the other, a blend of farce and mild social satire,1 that is, until Maclntyre burst upon the scene. The former strain begins with Sri Nissanka's Our Lanka (1939), celebrating a hero-king Dutugemunu who vanquished a foreign invader, relevant in the colonial situation in which Sri Lanka was placed at that time but without value as drama. Much less pardonable are V. Ariyaratnam's completely abortive attempts.) write drama in this vein - Christopher Columbus (1969) and The Sigirian -King. Lucien de Zoysa's sheer experience in acting and directing plays helped him, in writing his own plays of this kind, to give them a certain effectiveness in staging and a certain skill in characterisation. His works include Princess of the Lonely Days (1957), Fire and Storm Wind (1958), Put Out the Light (1964) and, his best, Fortress in the Sky (1956), from which I have included an extract. Fortress in the Sky is based on the life of the parricide-king Kasyapa (5th century A.D.) who chose a rock-fortress Sigiriya to be his capital as a defence against the possible return of his brother Moggallana who had escaped to India. While the recreation of the past is stilted, De Zoysa in-vests his main characters with a psychological depth which has a human relevance even to day. Prince Kasyapa appears a Ham-let-like hero who is compelled to involve himself in politics and deteriorates from an idealistic individualist to an inhuman tyrant, driven by delusions of divinity. Migara, his Commander-in- Chief, is the Machiavellian with a cause.

Sri Nissanka and Lucien de Zoysa were probably inspired by the colonial Bard-of-Lanka syndrome, by the grandeur of our history and legend, and by national pride as against British dominance. In regard to Lucien de Zoysa, it is also likely that he saw his plays partly as a vehicle for his own histrionic bent. But Gamini Gunawardena's motivation in writing Rama and Sita (1964) is different, an attempt to place the legend in 'proper perspective' and as universally relevant, not to write a historical play in the orthodox sense.2 He bases himself on the most interesting section of the Ramayana: Sita's immolation signifies Rama placing his public role, even political expedience, above personal considerations, even love, and it deals with the kind of conflict that has given rise to other great literature like some of Shakespeare's plays. The Sri Lankan version, influenced by the Eliot of the Four Quartets, is_ couched in an idiom that is poetic but not dramatic. It tends to be abstract and appears even pretentious. Gunawardena's attempt, however, is interesting be-cause he has aimed at a level more sophisticated and more expressive than realism.

The Sri Lankan audience, however, is much more fond of the other genre, the blend of farce and social comedy. Professor Ludowyk's adaptation of Sidney Grundy's A Pair of Spectacles as He Comes from Jaffna (1934) is in this vein, but its pioneer was H.C.N. Lanerolle with his first 'Ralahamy' skit, A Wife or Two, in 1927 and its main exponents were Lanerolle himself and E.M.W. Joseph. They wrote a clutch of such plays in the 1930s and 40s - The Dictator, Well, Mudaliyar, The Senator, Fifty-Fifty, The Return of Ralahamy, Ralahamy Rides Again.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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