Commentary on “Richard de Zoysa (13.03.1958 – 18.02.1990)”

Richard de Zoysa (13.03.1958 – 18.02.1990)

A viewer’s voice from that evening at ‘Punchi Theatre’.

The name of the commemorated and his life span in parenthesis made up an unusual title of the show that went on the boards on Thursday 18th  February at Namel and Malini Punchi theatre in Borella. That is providing I am correct in assuming what was the only wording on the front cover of the programme card was the title of this production by Steve de la Zilwa and the ‘Joint Effort Company’. The unusualness was a definitive of this theatrical experience, which I will say was spellbinding as a work of performance art. The commemoration of the life of slain journalist Richard de Zoysa who was known for his prolific career as a dramatist and writer of creative composition “with readings and performances from the work of Harold Pinter” (as said on the programme card) was something that befitted the outlooks and beliefs that de Zoysa as a fearless journalist stood for.

The collection of ‘acts’ done on stage was an assortment of the written word (by Pinter as well as others about his work) intended for reading and performance put on a common platform of theatrical performance. And interestingly the fact that letters/epistles written by Pinter were read with expressions that made them seem like performances stylized for stage drama, than at a book club gathering, did not seem to take away the integrity of the ‘word written for reading’. What I mean is that this manner of ‘reading out’ with ‘expression value’ that fits theatricals, did not seem to distort the writer’s (in this case Pinter) intended mode of communication, which was ‘reading’ (since some of them letters written ‘To the Editor’ of Newspapers) and not stage  performance. But then again, that may be questioned, (did it distort the intentions of Pinter or not?) who is to give a final verdict after all? That evening was about offering spaces for alternative voices.

I feel such performance ‘pieces’ can be called adaptations of the written word (written for personal reading) as made into ‘a reading of’ in the manner of a stage performance. The performances/acts that varied from ‘monologues’ to ‘dramatic sketches’ to ‘short plays’ to ‘readings’ made up what seemed like a ‘performative mosaic’ if I may call it that. In my opinion it struck me as a show that showed how ‘texts,’ be they written as ‘letters’ to be published in newspapers or ‘poems’ to be read out to an audience or ‘drama’ to be performed as stage plays, could be combined very harmoniously in to a  single ‘work of theatre’. A ‘theatrical collage’ if I may call it so, that was put on a canvas that came in the form of wooden stage boards.  

In my opinion this showed how the ‘written word’ could go beyond its original intents and become something more. If I may say so it was an instance of ‘trans-textuality’ where texts of different intents in terms of ‘genre’ or types/categories (such as letters, plays, commentaries, journalistic notes) were combined on a common theme.

Though greatly different as ‘genre’ the different texts/writings all had a clearly marked commonality it came to the qualities it presented and represented. Sarcastic, witty, remorselessly critical at times and profanely condemning, and movingly sympathetic towards the subjects that they focused on, such as the marginalized in society and politically victimized and oppressed, there was no mistaking how they were very ‘darkly humorous.’

Kumar Mirchandani’s solo performance, his reading, was the first performance that got me truly hooked. His style of delivery (persona, vocal tones and enunciation) as well as subject matter had my senses locked on to the stage as it seemed to grow in its impact. The political tones I believe were layered. There was very overt criticism that came in the form of unreserved condemnation and subtle subtexts; of course in that respect ‘genre’ plays a significant role, but I’m trying to think of the whole show as a single work.

One of the most remarkable features of this show as a production was that its very approach allowed the audience ‘a collectivized sense’ of forming responses to the acts on stage. The viewers seemed to develop an unspoken understanding of how to respond in unison, at times, as well as individuals. The very fact that the show began somewhat with a poignant touch being delivered with the reading of a selection of poems, impressed on the audience a call for solemnity. Maybe clapping wasn’t what was in order at the end of each act? And this sense spread through the theatre hall and held itself steadily until Tracy Holsinger’s monologue drew out a roaring applause from the silent darkness which was an unmistakable spontaneity. This genuine reaction from the audience set a new pace for audience response and reactions to the stage.

One could say from then onwards each piece received what seemed it’s due. With some getting rousing ovation, some got a barely audible applause, and there were some who got a very noticeable ‘sympathy clap’. The skillful use of the limited stage space also indicated how Pinter’s style of ‘minimalist drama’ takes shape rather effectively. Minimalism was thematic and key to understanding this show and its various messages encodings in terms of theatrical elements that were strong with symbolism. The short play ‘Mountain Language’ had a great many messages woven into the different layers of the production. The spoken word as well as non-verbal aspects of the play brought out very powerful overtones that called the viewers to empathize and get thinking. Evoking ‘a moment’ to stop; and think; would be one of the overall callings that this event projected.

‘Mountain Language’ was a fitting end and the finale was a novel act that gave out a powerful display of solemnity that superbly supplanted the usual curtain call that flows to a chorus of applause and cheering. All the players slowly filled into the stage, each holding a lit candle in hand. The final accorded the audience a moment to make up its mind. Let the silence hold on, or gently end it with a ‘pitter patter’ like applause that gathers momentum as the ‘collective sense’ came in to play, thus expressing appreciation of the talents and efforts that worked to put together a show worthy of two thumbs up and a standing ovation.


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