Chastising youthful follies : A review of Mata Vedi Thiyan nedda? | Sunday Observer

Chastising youthful follies : A review of Mata Vedi Thiyan nedda?

3 September, 2017

On August 25, Mata Vedi Thiyannedda? (Aren’t You Going to Shoot Me?) unfolded on the boards of the Wendt. Written and directed by veteran Sinhala theatre practitioner Rajitha Dissanayake the play was first staged in 1999, and attracted a near full house as a new production in 2017. Perhaps, it could be said, this show was a return of ‘the Rajitha of old’ offering a glimpse of ‘the young Rajitha’ when he began carving his mark on the Sri Lankan theatre scene.

A notable impression at the very outset was that this play started off with a musical element. A young male band opened the ‘theatrical story’ with what seemed like an overture, setting out a thematic base of the emotional setup affecting the principal duo of characters - Upul and Ravi; two male youths of undergrad vintage sharing a rented room in the big city.

This opening device was not characteristic of Dissanayake’s plays of recent years. Perhaps, it was an element indicative of the ‘musicality of his youth’ (?) And further, it must be said, as the story progresses this play does offer some rather appreciable song elements realistically woven in the narrative.

The core idea in the first song of the overture was how the image of one’s mother is an image that you see when arrested by sadness. It is telling I believe of how maternal warmth is almost subconsciously evoked when besieged by anxiety and sorrow. It is a solace that is surely nursed in the solitary mind when away from home. The musical overture also propounded the idea that language alone cannot help you to understand life. The line in question was –“Bhashaven puluwanda jeevithe therun ganna?” (Can you understand life through language?).

This particular line relates to the character of Ravi played by Ishara Wickremasinghe. Ravi presents an introvert, solitarily bound to bookishness, but the story shows him to be a somewhat quiet romantic with an aesthetic outlook.

Upul played by Sajitha Anuththara Anthony is an extrovert whose outgoing ways make his pursuits of romance to be more boyishly daring, expressive of amorous intent.

Mata Vedi Thiyan nedda? has as its central theme, the angst of youths, who are still naïve boys at heart, trying to find their way into adulthood in the big city, being far removed from the comforts of family. Ravi solitarily romances the (proverbial) ‘girl next door’. She is in truth only an occasional glimpse to his innocuously voyeuristic eyes when he gazes out the window at the upper storey of the building across the street. He doesn’t even get a full glimpse of her visage, just merely her feet.

Yet, that sight is sufficient to enchant him to secret romantic thoughts about who she may be. Upul executes a plan to find out about the mystery lady, who it turns out is not a ‘girl’ but a married woman. What follows is how Upul’s foolhardy foray to explore possibilities of making what would in fact be overtures with adulterous intent, results in emotional and psychological turbulence as the threat of retaliation looms venomously from the husband who has been wronged.

This is where the two kinds of naivety of Upul and Ravi come out. Upul in his overconfidence, naïve about the ways of the world, incurs the wrath of a jealous husband. Ravi who is naïve about the ways of the world contests what lawful (and perhaps even moral) basis the wronged husband has to do Upul harm for simply making an advance to his wife. Here rises the question of ‘how man enough’ can you be to face up to the consequences when you smugly overstep the bounds of ‘decency’ and ‘male territoriality’.

This is a play that weighs much on dialogue. The narrative at times sparks with the literary vein of the playwright. A line that is visually evocative of imagery to impart wisdom comes out beautifully when the wronged husband, played formidably by Shyam Fernando, says to a petrified Upul - Didn’t your mother tell you to learn how to pluck a honeycomb and not simply throw stones at it?

The show ends with the mental anguish that Upul suffers through the night going through a nightmare where he is confronted by the wronged husband who enters the room and coldly torments the young man with the menace of possible harm for the transgression committed. The end shows the burden of anxiety hasn’t ended. Morning brings another day. Another trial of uncertainty and fearfulness.

Yet, there was a juncture in the story that could have been made the end that would have added another whole degree of torment upon the character of Upul.

And that being if the play ended with the cold impulsive killing of the innocent Ravi, being shot in his sleep by the jealous husband been shown as reality and not a dream from which Upul wakes up eventually.

The moment Fernando’s character pulls out a well concealed handgun and shoots Ravi point blank, who in his sleep simply stirs in his bed while Upul is being interrogated, created a shock effect in a play that was otherwise bereft of violence.

If that murder had been real and not part of Upul’s bad dream, the implications would be that Upul in his foolhardiness caused the death of his friend who was an innocent in the whole matter as Ravi even sternly advises Upul against pursuing the unwise idea of making overtures to the married woman they admire from across the street through an open window.

And that implication would cast a lifetime of torment upon the conscience of the cocky overconfident Upul who even in the dream is left unharmed by Fernando’s gun wielding character, and made to simply witness the horror of his friend being shot dead.

A sharp sting comes in the cold indifferent ‘advice’ the jealous husband tosses Upul when the young man asks whether he isn’t going to be shot. That advice being ‘You get married’. That part was simply chilling. There was no doubt the audience felt it omnipresent.

A notable feature of this play was how silence was employed in the performance. Silence was not made to be merely the absence of speech or sound on stage but a meaningful nonverbal device in translating the moods and situations in the story.

At times as I sat in the gentle darkness of the Wendt watching Mata Vedi Thiyan nedda? I was reminded of the Sinhala play, What A Nice Couple, by Chamara Guruge (which I reviewed in the 24/04/2016 issue of the Sunday Observer) where silence played a significant role.

The ‘silences’ born out of quietude and also out of numbing fear felt by the characters in Mata Vedi Thiyan nedda?, were well empathised with and reciprocated by the audience that evening at the Wendt. At times, the auditorium became a vessel of pin drop silence.

The performance was overall good and worthy of applause. There were however, instances when I felt Anuththara and Wickremasinghe could have been more dynamic in the delivery of dialogues between them. There was a subtle base of theatricality that clutched their acting at times, mostly at the earlier part of the performance, which lessened the chemistry of the realist vein of theatre.

Mata Vedi Thiyan nedda? doesn’t deal with matters of state politics or the larger social landscape of how socio-cultural transformations take shape due to politics of people and media.

Therefore, this play isn’t in the vein of Dissanayake’s more recent works of theatre. It is in a way, a coming of age story, based on two youths who encounter the big city and try to wade their way through the plethora of allures and distractions that seduce them in different ways. A story that carries a stern message about living with harsh consequences, when naivety drives desire.