“The last time I was on stage, I ended up in the emergency room,” Delon Weerasinghe tells me. Pointing to a puckered brown spot on his palm, he says, deadpan, “this hole in my hand – it’s not the sign of the stigmata.” The scar dates back to the staging of Delon’s first play, ‘Thicker than Blood’. Delon’s character was supposed to die by gunshot, and a carefully disguised squib on his chest was timed to explode after the last line. But some confusion, involving Bombakaru, an assistant of dubious talents, led to a mistimed explosion that blew open Delon’s palm. “When I say I put blood, sweat and tears into a production, I mean it literally,” says Delon ruefully.
I’m sitting across from the Gratiaen winning playwright and breakfast is laid out on the table before us. Delon is somewhat disappointed with his ‘everything omelette,’ but is otherwise in fine form. As a result, the interview meanders all over the place, only rarely touching on ‘Death Defying Acts’ his newest production. “It’s a collection done off Broadway – or off-off Broadway, I’m not sure,” he says naming three one act plays – David Mamet’s ‘An Interview’, Elaine May’s ‘Hotline’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Central Park West’. Death is the motif that runs through all three and Delon says the themes are decidedly adult. “This is one where you ought to leave the kids at home.”
The three playwrights are perhaps better known as writers, but Delon says he’s enjoying the challenge they represent. Mamet – who has won a Pulitzer prize and been nominated at both the Oscars and the Tony awards – will keep the audience guessing. Woody Allen, easily the most famous of the three, is dependably hilarious, while Elaine May has also received an Oscar nomination for her work.
So in essence, these are all big guns. But Delon has faith in his cast. He declares that his team of eight – made up of old friends and new acquaintances – is up to the challenge of staging three comedies. Still, he can count on opening night being a trial by fire. “It’s like having a rectal thermometer,” says Delon (chosen by him for this analogy because it is far more accurate than an oral one and also because it works on catatonic people). “In a comedy, your feedback is immediate… you know exactly what the audience is feeling and thinking and that’s terrifying.”
|Elaine May’s ‘Hotline’|
|David Mamet’s ‘An Interview’|
The staging of ‘Death Defying Acts’ comes eight years after the politically charged ‘Thicker than Blood’. In the years in between, Delon has made his living working in television and film. Though he has directed numerous school teams (though strangely never his own alma mater S. Thomas’ College,) in the annual Shakespeare competition, this production demands an altogether different approach.
For one thing, his cast is all grown up, for another he’s free to play the ruthless director. When directing his own play, Delon says he struggled with a sense of “ownership,” a protectiveness toward the script he had written, which necessarily came into conflict with his role as a director. This time around he speaks of editing the scripts without a qualm.
It also helps that he’s had a lot of backing. The name of the troupe – The Broken Leg Theatre Company – created especially for this production, is inspired in part by traditional theatre speak.
(Delon hopes to do more than ‘break a leg’ – “we intend to be permanently lucky.”) Alternately, it might be construed as a reference to the state of its three founders – by the sound of it, each has a limb that is somewhat the worse for wear. “You should hear us complain at meetings,” says Delon, clutching his leg. Anita Selvarajah has been handling the production side of things. Shanaka Amarasinghe, whom Delon has known since they were six years old, is the third member.
They hope this will be the first of many productions by the company. “We don’t get to see the kind of theatre that we’d like to see, let alone act in the kind of plays we’d like to act in,” says Delon. That their first production is entirely in aid of a good cause makes for an auspicious beginning.
The Gamini Dissanayake Foundation’s Institute of Technology & Vocational Studies (GDITVS) is an accredited training centre that offers young, underprivileged students the chance to study information technology, computer science and hotel management among other disciplines.
|Woody Allen’s ‘Central Park West’|
Over 1,000 students have already benefited from the programme. Another 400 will be recruited this year as part of the newly minted pre-school teacher training course (toward which some of these funds will be channelled).
At the end of each academic year, the foundation links outgoing students with the business community through a well-publicized Job Market. Many go on to study further, and it is a matter of pride that six of their graduates have received scholarships from the Informatics Institute of Computer Studies to follow the Manchester Metropolitan University Degree course.
‘Death Defying Acts’ stars Fazeeha Shohorab, Yasodha Suriyapperuma, Shanaka Amarasinghe, Tehani Welgama, Anushka Senanayake, Ruvin de Silva, Samantha De Alwis and Delon Weerasinghe.
Published in The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka on September 12, 2010. Words by Smriti Daniel.