Percussion opens, closes, and leads the way in Peter Oswald's agile poetic adaptation of the Hindu sacred epic The Ramayana, which has been artfully produced by the Constellation Theatre Company and its artistic director Allison Arkell Stockman. Tom Teasley composed the percussion soundscape and delivers a standout performance as the only musical performer. The Dresser, who has acquired a growing interest in percussion composition since hearing Gérard Grisey's "Le Noir de L'Étoile," thinks that what made Teasley's concert of original sounds unusual was that he added scat singing to the mix of drums and odd keyboard instrument called the melodika.
Like Homer's epic poems the Iliad and Odyssey, The Ramayana involves war, an arduous journey, love and honor (or duty versus desire), and the mix between gods and humans. The main character is a blue-skinned god named Rama. The multi-talented and good-looking Andreu Honeycutt portrayed the ideal man-god Rama. His acting, singing, and dancing convinced the Dresser that Rama was a magnet for love and hate, two opposite emotions associated with charismatic leaders.
Equally attractive in theater arts and looks was Heather Haney as Rama's blond wife Sita. While Kendra Rai's costume for Sita, a mix of peacock blue and hot pink would have been enough to keep the Dresser's eye fixed on her, there was something about the intelligent way she moved and commanded the stage that went beyond how alluring the characters of The Ramayana found her. After all, Sita, Mother of the World, is kidnapped by Ravanna, the demon King of Lanka, and even he, a vile three-headed monster, treats her with kid gloves.
While all of the performers were excellent, another stand out performer was Joe Brack as Hanuman, the monkey god. His role calls for physical strength (e.g., he swings from a rope that projects into the audience) but also for a balance between the animal and man-god worlds, which he does with good timing and appropriate corporal movement. When he is tapped to find Sita, and that means he must cross a large body of water, the way he stood up showed how he overcame being a monkey and transformed into a superhero.
Also worthy of note are Anna St. Germain's masks for the monkey troupe and the headdresses of the demons that sport their other heads. A large and beautiful fabric of silky blue stripes is used to create the ocean to good effect.
This colorful two-hour-and-ten-minute show with one intermission performed in Washington DC's 150-seat Source black box theater has been playing to sold-out houses for a number of weeks and will continue to do so until it closes June 6, 2010. The Ramayana was originally produced by the Birmingham Rep in Birmingham, England and then moved on to London's National Theatre. With a touch of Shakespearean mastery and modern day conversational touches including rap, Oswald's script is a mix of one liners, comic quips, and easy-to-follow storyline. The Dresser left the performance feeling like she carried away some of the supernatural energy of The Ramayana.
In Kim Robert's long poem The Kimnama, the poet leads the reader on her journey through India. She mixes the ancient with the current day. In the follow excerpt, she mentions the monkey god Hanuman who has the power to grant wishes much in keeping with the story of The Ramayana.
..................... is the day to wear yellow
............ and make charitable donations
of yellow lentils to the poor.
..................... You should never cut your hair
............on a Tuesday.
Instead, pray to Hanuman,
..................... the monkey god,
............to grant your wishes.
On Saturday, Shanivar, you should donate
..................... black lentils to charity.
............Never purchase anything containing iron,
such as a new car, on a Saturday.
..................... Shani is an angry god,
............but you can appease him
if you look at the reflection
..................... of your face
............in a pool of black oil.
by Kim Roberts
from The Kimnama
Copyright © 2007 Kim Roberts
Photos by: Daniel Schwartz