Review - Stormy Weather: Glimpsing the Form of the Storm | Sunday Observer

Review - Stormy Weather: Glimpsing the Form of the Storm

Playwright and Director Jehan Aloysius (left) with the cast of Stormy Weather
Playwright and Director Jehan Aloysius (left) with the cast of Stormy Weather

“We all have the capacity to commit murder,” said Dmitri Gunatilake, with steadfast poise in a tone of sobriety and conviction, as ‘Charmaine’. That moment, by my observations, was the most significant delivery in the narrative reflecting the substance of the ‘whodunit theme’ in playwright and theatre director, Jehan Aloysius’ crime noir stage play Stormy Weather.

On 26 March this year, occupying seat Q-7 I witnessed the gentle darkness of the Wendt get ruptured with crackles and claps of thunder and lights that flashed to usher in the storminess of what was to unfold as Stormy Weather, written and directed by Aloysius, which came alive that evening for its closing night of a three day show run.

When looking at the narrative technique or the overall theatre craft designed for this play what can be noted is that Aloysius mounted on the boards a theatrical work presented as a mixed-media narrative. Stormy Weather shows a modern touch with more than a mere brush with the medium of ‘motion pictures’. It relied a lot on the element of video for both dramatic enhancement, as well as story narrative. The non linearity of the play’s narrative was rather appreciably pronounced through the use of the film element (shown on a large screen set in the background, placed at a height above the actors) although it didn’t function to deliver dialogue. The cinema component was not one that fully runs as part of the story line per say, at all points. There were also symbolic facets shown as visual narrative enhancing the whodunit theme. The prime example being the scene where three women with knives circle the bed of the male victim and stab him simultaneously.

When discussing this sort of narrative style for theatre, an old school classicist of the proscenium may argue, Aloysius made use of the dimensions of cinema to bypass the challenges of the physical limits of the stage without labouring to explore creative means to present on stage the substance of what is contained in the film components through the medium of live theatre acting. From a more contemporary vantage of looking at theatre, another may say, the insertion of a cinema component provides what is arguably an out of the ordinary theatre experience and offers a novelty that speaks of fusion of the arts. On these lines, as I do observe what was screened was of absolutely superb quality as audio-visual/cinematic material, Video Image as the Official Film Partner of the theatre production deserves praise for the high quality material that was screened in Stormy Weather. One may ask therefore, did that larger than life element of cinema steal the ‘thunder’ of the live action on stage? Can the essential of theatre which is ‘live acting’ seem dwarfed or overwhelmed by the kind of compelling cinema component that was seen in Stormy Weather? I for one, did enjoy it, but for what is worth, I hope my arguments can provide theatre practitioners, theatregoers and students of drama and theatre some food for thought.

The shadowy schema for lighting coupled with the sound of a brewing storm created the mood of a grim and oppressive atmosphere boding menace. However, this lighting adopted for the purpose of this play’s schema worked at times as a dimension for mystification to the degree of veiling facial expressions of actors from clear visibility. The action onstage became a very vocally projected picture at times. The verbal pulse of the players came off at times as the main force from the stage, keeping people in the dark about what may be going on in the minds of the characters whose visage couldn’t be clearly ‘read’ at all times. This was particularly the case with the performance of the character of the police inspector played by Dino Corera, who through the power of his voice projected quite an effective persona. Amesh de Silva on the other hand performed his role as a character whose countenance was generally readable. His portrayal of the brash and bawdy Noel Richards, whose brutal murder is the crux of the mystery, was projectile. But his performance could have, in my opinion, benefited from a better modulation of adrenaline since the tension he brought on stage at times seemed poised to erupt. There is no denying however, that the portrayal of pervasive aggression was clearly achieved by de Silva through his stage time.

Piorina Fernando and Kavitha Gunasekera delivered characters that were expressive and certainly not in want of the ‘dramatic’. But, for most of their performances they carried a vocal wavelength which at times fell into a monotony not of their characters’ design. In this regard, I wonder if Aloysius perhaps overlooked the element of silence and hushed tones as factors to build menace and mystery in the course of the interplay of dialogue between characters. What I noticed was, this performance didn’t show many of the players make deft use of the subtle ‘dramatic pause’ for accenting the characters’ inner tension and suspense. The notable exception was the character of Charmaine.

In general, I feel the ‘dramatic pause’ (which of course must be distinguished from an overdone melodramatic freeze) was not sufficiently used to enhance suspense and menace in Stormy Weather which could have benefited from it. Manoeuvring silence between dialogue, audio elements and the physical movement of the players, to make silence not merely the absence of sound, but an element that ‘speaks’ of what is unsaid between characters, is not the easiest thing in the world. It boils down to the question of how does the director ‘employ’ silence? Stormy Weather banks much on the effect of audio sound and vocal projection to achieve menace. But, the calm before the storm, the sudden deadpan silence can also be chilling, if mastered.

Dmitri Gunatilake claimed the spotlight in this play, in my opinion, with a persuasive persona, a good variation of vocal tones and facial expressions, and portrayed the character of Charmaine as a drunk who was saucy and scintillating, while possessing depth and severity. Eleven year old thespian Atira Bandaranayake must be congratulated for her performance as the daughter. Her innate talent for acting was evinced that evening through Stormy Weather.

So who did it? Who was the killer? Was it Avanti the lover, Therese the wife, or Charmaine, the sister? Or was it someone else? I don’t know whether it was my senses getting honed after writing over a hundred theatre reviews or some male intuition (as equally valid as the concept of women’s intuition I contend), but less than ten minutes into the play I guessed who the killer would turn out to be. And true enough, my hunch proved right at the end when none of the adult females were guilty of the crime.

Compared to Aloysius’s Bengal Bungalow which presents a masterful farce with realist stagecraft, Stormy Weather presents a marked difference in terms of both, subject matter and theatre craft. Aloysius is one of the few Sri Lankan theatre practitioners who writes original drama scripts for English theatre. His work I believe merits to be studied as successful ventures in English medium Sri Lankan theatre that offers itself as mainstream entertainment of the proscenium.

 

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