Tracy Jayasinghe and Ruvin De Silva.
Tracy Holsinger was kind enough to invite me for a rehearsal of Paraya, a play that’s opening this Wednesday the 18th. Where is the interesting part, it’s at the former Hotel Rio, a bombed out ruin next to the current Rio Cinema. The Rio we all know and drive by is an active soft porn theatre (currently screening Virgin Hunter, or Vergin Hunter, as they spell it outside). The Rio Hotel has been closed forever and it’s a post-apocalyptic wonderland, as is the play. For the performance you get to wander around the space and follow characters as you choose, which makes for a very interesting experience.
As an note, this play is not really for old people or kids. There are no seats per se and the site is definitely not disabled friendly. You enter through a gate next to the porno theatre, cross a bridge (yeah) and then go up some stairs and turn right to what was once a pool. The now drained poolside is the main stage, as much as there is one. That’s where the first scene plays out, where all the characters are together. From there the characters all disperse and you can follow them to what I think were six different locations. The play loops twice so can follow more characters, but you’ll never get it all.
A lot of people go to the cinema and expect to sit in the A/C and just observe. This isn’t like that. You actually feel like you’re watching peoples lives, it’s very immersive like that. The first scene is a staged rally type recruitment thing by a state which seems to be in control (terrorist video interruptions notwithstanding). As the characters fracture, however, you see that the authorities are themselves abused and insecure, and that, well, I mainly followed the oppressors.
The play has no linear plot as far as I could tell. It’s set in a dystopian Sri Lanka after some world war that annihilated Russia and America, leaving India and China as super powers. Sri Lanka has become isolationist, trying for self-sufficiency through nationalist fervor. It seems to be a one party state, policed by super-housewives called Chethanas. Everybody is addicted to a soma sort of drug called Upekka which keeps them generally happy. However, for some people the Upekka doesn’t work anymore, making them into subversive junkie types.
The broader thrust of the play is what it means to be a paraya, an outsider. Shehan Karunatilake has more on this on the play’s blog. The structure of the play makes for a compelling exploration of this idea because you can stay with characters through both public and private moments and because you don’t get the whole picture, ever.
People have been asking me what the play is about, to which I’d say it’s a bit of a browner Brave New World take, but that’s not really it. It’s actually a completely different theatre experience, one more akin to being inside a story than it is to sitting and watching a play unfold in front of you. Because you can be so intimate with the characters (being just feet from them) the experience really becomes more about them than about any overarching story.
Paraya involves a bit more standing than usual, but it’s a play you really should see, provided you are somewhat able-bodied. They’re not only using a new space for theatre, they’re opening up the whole space to the audience as well. You can gander about, explore, all while there’s an interesting story going on around you. Oh, and btw, be warned that there’s pantomimed masturbation, feigned violence, and a lurker member of the cast that may try to show you dirty playing cards. So, parental advisory and all, it’s a great play and a big stretch in the broader theatre scene.
Paraya is playing from the 18th to the 22nd of September (Wednesday to Sunday) at the old Rio Hotel in Slave Island. There’s more details at YAMU. Call 0777 564 664 to reserve seats.