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Makara does its rounds

THEATRE: Dharmasiri Bandaranayake turned out to be a fine Lancelot - just as I had expected. He is not a big made chap. Neither was he a tall domineering person. He was of average height and quite slim. But there was charisma in his presence. He had a nice relaxed walk. He stood well and moved attractively. He had a nicely modulated voice. He was a very effective Lancelot.

We premiered Makara on 29, 30 and 31 of August and on the 1st of Sept. 1973 at the Lumbini Hall. It was totally a dialogue drama and ran for about two and a half hours.

Our cast was superb. Daya Alwis played a rollicking rascal of a Mayor and Cyril Dharmawardena and Karu Hangawatte alternately played the role of the Mayor's son and secretary - a perfect foil to the Mayor.

MAKARA: Actors on stage.

Elson Divituragama and Nimal Fernando played the Dragon alternately in their own inimitable style. Sunila Abeysekera was a winsome Eliza and handled the nuances of the role very well. Douglas Karunaratne and Samson Gomes played the role of Charlmain - Eliza's father, in the docile manner that was required.

Jayalath Manoratne and Chula Kariyawasam played the role of the talking cat most lovably. There were other very attractive minor roles played by some of my old hands.

The magic carpet weavers were played by Jayalath Manoratne and H.L.P. de Silva, The Violin maker was played by Nissanka Diddeniya. The hat maker by Anil Hattotuwegama, the sword maker by P.S. Gomes, the sentry by Mervyn Jayatunga and the jailor by Nimal Jayasinghe. Eliza's friends were played by Sunethra de Mel, Sunitha Jayasundera and Yasawathie Abeyratne. P.L.D. Perera, Dharmadasa Kuruppu, Nandasena Hewage, Nihal Dahanayake and Hethuka Jayatilleke played the other minor roles.

In a way it was a nice experience to be doing a totally different dialogue drama after a long time. We did not have the three heads of the Dragon actually FALLING on the stage. There was a huge thud and the people watching the fight above rushed to each thud and then we had the Dragon moaning, calling his friends and asking for a bit of water etc.

All in all it was a satisfying production. We had good reviews except from Philip Cooray who had said it was all 'talk, talk, talk'!

Thunderous applause

We performed Makara in practically all the major towns and cities. I remember taking the play to Hingurakgoda. The school show [matinee] was full and the boys and girls enjoyed it thoroughly. They whistled endlessly when the Dragon's heads fell one by one and there was thunderous applause when Lancelot returned after recovery.

Poor Daya Alwis, who played the rascally Mayor had to put up with a lot of booing. The main show was scheduled for 6.30. Even by 6 p.m. the hall was almost empty. Then we saw a miracle happen. Men, women and children arrived by tractor, by lorries and carts in their hundreds. We had forgotten it was a farming community.

They had finished their day's work and it was only after that they started arriving. By seven the hall was full. They were a very enthusiastic crowd who wanted to see who this 'Makara' was! I have hardly seen an audience enjoying a play so much. There were whistles for the good men like Lancelot, the cat, the carpet maker, the violin maker, hatter, blacksmith etc. and cat calls for the characters such as the Dragon, the Mayor, Henry - the mayor's son, and all the sycophants of the Dragon.

The crowd went wild as the Dragon's heads fell, one by one. And there were continuous whistles and applause as Lancelot finally took Eliza's hand and said "I would have killed the Dragon in any case, but with my love for you, it was easier and I was more determined."

I think that rural crowd from far away Hingurakgoda, immediately identified who "The Dragon" was. They were like the carpet makers, the hatter, the blacksmith and the cat who were waiting for the arrival of a Lancelot!

I remember another show at Katugastota St. Anthony's hall for quite another reason. It was a very successful show and there was continued applause after the curtain came down. We had to give the audience several curtain calls. Some times I avoided going for the curtain call because I wanted the cast to get the maximum applause.

After the curtain call was over, a young man came rushing in, to the dressing rooms in search of me. I thought he had come to congratulate me and offered him my hand with a broad smile on my face. He refused to take my hand, but started lambasting me properly.

"Why are you scolding me? Did you not enjoy the play?" I asked him in bewilderment - because the applause was so thunderous and prolonged I thought everybody had ENJOYED the play!

"Why didn't you come on stage for the curtain call?" Was his angry reaction. "I don't ALWAYS come on stage. I am only the translator and the director of the play. When the applause is good I let the actors have it all. That is part of my appreciation of their effort."

I answered patiently. The young man was well and truly agitated. Hence my rather lengthy explanation. "You have written such a thought provoking play and directed your actors so well, you SHOULD have come on stage, to share our joy with you!" He thundered. "It is your DUTY!" He thundered again. "I am sorry if I have offended you.

Frankly I was a little tired too. I have many things to do towards the end of the play - directing the sound of the falling heads of the Dragon etc. and I do the "moaning" for the injured Dragon. At least the moaning of ONE of the heads! So I thought I will miss out on the curtain call. I say young man, if you are so HAPPY with the play why are you being so rough with me instead of congratulating me?" I tried to strike on a jocular vein.

Mayor's wedding party

The dishevelled young man stared hard at me and wrinkled his nose. "Not only did you neglect your duty by NOT appearing on stage, you have also been drinking!" Declared the still angry man. "I can smell it in your breath!" He added.

By now I too was getting annoyed a little bit, but I thought I will humour this persuasive young man. "Yes, I too was invited for the Mayor's wedding party and he offered me also a drink.

You know, that is how the Mayor is!" The young man was not amused. "You write a play that is just right for our cursed times, and you go drinking with the Mayor! You should be ashamed of yourself! I thought you were a gentleman and a good man.

I am very disappointed in you!" Declared a very disappointed young man and he burst out of the room. Several of my actors had gathered around on their way out from the curtain call and they had thought that the young man was a mad cap who had a grudge against me.

They wanted to interfere. "Who is that mad fellow?" Daya Alwis - our Mayor - wanted to know. "Don't worry about him. He is only an over enthusiastic spectator. He spoke very highly of the acting abilities of our cast. He was angry I did not appear for the curtain call!" "He is right. You SHOULD appear for the curtain call." Chorused some of the onlooker actors.

I wonder where that young man is now. In any case I made it a point to appear for the curtain call after that tirade in Katugastota that night. So, Makara HAD its rounds and we enjoyed it. I think it brought Dharmasiri Bandaranayake to the "acting" scene once again. Later, he was observed concentrating more on films.

Anyway, there is an interesting "postscript" to Makara. In about 1983 or 84 [after the Black July incidents] Dharmasiri came to see me and wanted my permission to do a new production of Makara. At that time I was working for the Rupavahini Corporation and I knew - or at least I THOUGHT I knew - what was happening in the North and what a tough time our soldiers were having trying to quell the terrorists.

J.R. Jayewardene was President and I knew the Govt. was having a tough time. I frankly thought it would be rather "indelicate" to launch a production like Makara at that particular time - when there was a war going on. So I asked Dharmasiri to wait a little more before he brought the Dragon on stage again.

Fresh translation

He was clearly disappointed. I told him that the play was NOT mine and he could get a fresh translation and go ahead, if he was that keen. So he got Cyril C. Perera to do a new translation and brought it on stage. His version was called MAKARAKSHAYA.

In his production he actually had all three heads of the Dragon falling on stage and one head looked very much like the head of J.R. Jayewardene! Personally I thought that was too much.

Any way his production became very popular - much more popular than ours. I think he even won a fair number of awards at the State Drama Festival. It also featured a number of young women as Eliza including the late Ramani Bartholomeauz and later, Swarna Mallawaratchi. Dharmasiri himself played Lancelot.

I saw a performance of it with Ramani. She was very pretty and good too. Somehow Dharmasiri did not make the same impact as he did in my production. It could be that the double job of Director and Main Actor took its toll on the chap.

I am not sure if J.R. ever came to know that one of the heads of the Dragon was a look-alike of him. If he did, he would have ignored it without making a fuss about it. If that was so, that was clever of him.

Thinking back about the whole thing I now feel that I SHOULD have allowed Dharmasiri to use my script. Of course I could have lost my job at the Rupavahini for joining in anti-Govt. propaganda, not that I thought about it in that vein at that time. I just wanted to avoid embarrassment to a Govt. that had its hands full with a war on their hands.

Thought of the week

I often wonder what kind of "private" life these politicians have. What I mean is after all the thunder and fire spitting both in parliament and else where, how they would feel once they are back home. Of course most of the time they have to lie, utter half truths and "eat their own words" uttered so piously not so long ago - specially when they have jumped from one camp to another!

They will find excuses for all kinds of things - from the prices of essential goods, to petrol, diesel, kerosene, milk food and even on subjects like the air attacks in Colombo. And on any reversal in the battle fronts.

It is easy to hoodwink a gullible public, but how they get away with it at home, with their wives and children, I don't know. I suppose they arrange a trip abroad or a holiday at some very exclusive place so that the kith and kin would be placated. Unfortunately I don't know many politicians, except for a nod and a smile wherever I cannot avoid meeting them. Apart from all that there are so many Ministers, Deputies and non-cabinet guys, one can hardly remember who is who.

It must be a tough life for the poor chaps - having to play so many different roles within the course of a single day. I wonder how they would fare on the legitimate stage - where pretending, illusion, and down right fantasy is legitimately allowed!



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