Hema Perera- Sydney

A few days ago, Sydney theatregoers were exposed to a theatre experience which left memories of an unprecedented nature. It was none other than Champa Buddhipala’s fourth dramatic creation ‘’Ashawe Veedi-Riya’’ based on Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer prize winning play, “A Streetcar Named Desire’’. This was Williams’ most popular work, and is considered to be one of the best and most successful plays of the 20th century. The distinctive nature of this production was that for the first time it has created an opportunity for Sri Lankan-Australian audiences to enjoy a 20th Century (1947) American drama written by an iconic playwright.

This is a significant and bold step forward by a Sri Lankan director, which involved great risks as it was a massive deviation from the traditional Sri Lankan productions. This brave step by Champa and Chandrani Buddhipala should be admired, appreciated and congratulated. In response, the common reaction from audiences in Sydney and Melbourne was that they had not witnessed a Sinhala drama of this type, style, magnitude and quality, on Australian soil, before.

The first thing that struck the audience upon the raising of the curtain was the theme music created by award winning music director, Harsha Makalanda. The bouncing jazz pieces played throughout the drama took us directly to the jazz era of New Orleans, USA. When the lighting (directed by Champa and Tara Buddhipala) lit up the stage to the sound of the rumbling streetcar, it was the set that stole the attention of the audience. The set had been originally designed by Champa Buddhipala and constructed by Nishantha Dep (of Trojan Kanthawo fame) in Sri Lanka. This was brought to life for Australian audiences anew by the talented Saliya Tennakoon (Set Manager and Artist) and Somaratna Uwage (Set Builder). Their effort in creating this amazing piece as the backdrop for the show should be greatly appreciated. This eye-catching, purpose built, two-storey set must be the first of its kind in a Sri Lankan production in Australia. It created a beautiful backdrop for the unfolding of this incredible story and the unravelling of the main characters’ motivations and secrets. Undoubtedly, a huge effort of creativity and craftsmanship has gone into the creation of this structure.

The director’s unconventional casting of actors increased the engagement of audiences. All-time romantic tele-drama actor Saranga Disasekara played the abusive character of Stanley - and his performance was outstanding. The well-known dancer and tele-actress Dinakshie Priyasad performed the fragile and tormented Stella; experienced tele-actress Wasanthi Ranwala was casted as the mature, tough urban woman, Eunice; and the actor Thumindu Dodantenna, who delivered a ground-breaking performance as a con-man in the tele-drama “Koombiyo,” performed the romantic role of Mitch. Chamila Peiris, who portrayed the main role of Blanche, excelled beyond belief in performing this multi-dimensional, complex character of a woman who was victimised by a male-dominated society. The difficult and complex nature of performance required of her was amply delivered, without a hitch, throughout the show. Such casting has paved way to the delivery of turning point stage performances for these actors. I believe, this will provide a springboard for them in their future acting endeavours.

As the story unravels, Stella’s sister Blanche arrives at Stella’s house in Elysian Fields, New Orleans. There begins a tense tug of war between Blanche and Stella’s husband, Stanley. The audiences followed this struggle to the brutal end with bated breath. They were also engrossed in following the hopelessness and tragedy of the love story of Blanche and Mitch. The tension between Blanche and Stanley culminates in a climax affecting the entire ecosystem of the play – to an unforgettable end. Other characters were played by: Srinath Maddumage (Steve), Sampath Jayaweera (Pablo), Renuka Liyanage (African-American woman), Thilak Ranasinghe (Doctor), Upeka Pasquel and Rathna Gurusinghe (Matron), Ajith De Silva (Young Man), and Sriya Ranasinghe (Flower Seller).

Stage Management was skilfully done by Sanjaya Hettiarachchi. Fascinating costumes, which elevated the mood and context of the drama, were designed by Tara Buddhipala. Makeup was designed and done by Ajith De Silva and Indrani Mahanama. Prop management was carried out by Cicera Rodrigo, and Sound Management was arranged by Indu Premathilake.

“Ashawe Veedi Riya” was produced, organised and well-coordinated for Sydney and Melbourne cities by Chandrani Buddhipala. Her indefatigable effort and determination has made this mammoth effort a great success.

It is a well-known fact that Buddhipala’s Sinhalese translation of “A Streetcar Named Desire’’ had won nominations for the best drama translation at the Sri Lankan State Literary Award Festival, and its production was selected for the final round of the State Drama Award Festival a couple of years ago. Today, “Ashawe Veedi-Riya’’ stands as the first ever, official Sinhala translation of this drama holding the official rights granted by Georges Borchardt in USA. (Georges Borchardt is a prestigious institution, dealing with the rights for literary works and legacies of five Nobel Prize winners and eight Pulitzer Prize winners, including Tennessee Williams.) This translation has further created new opportunities in Sri Lanka as it has become the first published complete Sinhala translation of the play recommended for and studied by drama students at the university level. Therefore, this was an incredible opportunity for Sydney and Melbourne theatregoers to witness a Sinhala production of this translation starring five award-winning actors.

At the end of the show, the newly appointed Consul General, Mr Bandara delivered a moving speech and presented the appreciation awards to Sri Lankan and local actors. The producer, Chandrani Buddhipala appreciated all the help and support given to her by many, in her effort to deliver a successful production.

A comprehensive and unbiased review by our well-known theatre and cinema legend, Dr Dharmasiri Bandaranayake appeared in the souvenir and said, “Ashawe Veedi-Riya is a drama to be categorised among the finest productions of the Sinhala stage”.

I wish them courage and strength to produce more of such high quality productions for the benefit of the Sri Lankan-Australian audience.

Click here to enjoy a photo gallery captured by Harish P. Rajeev.; 



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