‘My Way’, Manuka Wijesinghe’s satire on Lankan mores raises some controversial issues
Ways of society through family
By Anuradha Samarajiva
"And now, the end is near; and so I face the final curtain". Frank Sinatra's classic song was inspirational for the cast and crew of Manuka Wijesinghe's play My Way, but certainly not a cue for them to bid farewell to their beloved production.After a successful run in January this year, theatregoers are being given another chance to enjoy the satirical comedy.

"I've lived a life that's full, and travelled each and ev'ry highway," sings Sinatra. It's an idea Manuka and director Lasantha Rodrigo can both relate to. Manuka spends her time between Germany and Sri Lanka, and Lasantha can fondly recall his days at university in the States. Though being brought up here, they have experienced what it means to be a migrant Sri Lankan, and for Manuka, "Sri Lanka is home despite all our eccentricities". She's always been one to observe the people and situations around her, and these rich descriptions make up the script of My Way. "I have this element in me where I can laugh at everything," she says.

The play touches on many of the cultural issues in Sri Lanka, with the main focus being homosexuality. Lasantha says it's a lifestyle that's considered "abnormal in this culture". It is, in fact, a taboo subject, one that could possibly be overlooked, but never openly discussed.

The comedy begins with a young man named Lal revealing to his expatriate Sri Lankan family that he's gay. Thrown into turmoil, they decide to go back home and "cure" their boy by marrying him off to a Sri Lankan girl. Their return sets off a series of classic Sri Lankan situations and characters. Among them is a shrewd porter who wants his tip in dollars, Lal's conventional paternal grandmother, and the cheeky family maid Alice.

The characters, who represent different levels of society and viewpoints, are used to subtly (or quite blatantly) bring up difficult issues. Lasantha believes that we have "huge Sinhala -Tamil issues here", which are brought up in the play through a family discussion. Lal's aunt Shiranie is a politically correct woman who encourages the family to choose a Tamil girl for Lal, saying, "peace has to start at home". Grandmother retorts that she practises enough peace, pointing to her inter-racial, inter-religious bridge club as evidence.

Manuka says that My Way "raises a lot of issues with a critical angle, but it doesn't deal with them heavily". The play contrasts the situations of the haves and the have-nots, the upper and lower classes, and even the expatriate Sri Lankans versus their relatives at home. This country's problems with nationalism, racism, and tolerance are all aired, though not in a vicious way. The audience can't help laughing even as they see their own follies and prejudices acted out on stage. "Our people anyway are quite humorous if they don't take themselves too seriously," smiles Manuka.

Sinatra sings, "Regrets I've had a few; but then again, too few to mention". Manuka and Lasantha feel the same way about their play, and have no worries about staging it again. Despite its controversial content, Lasantha says, "It's very encouraging that no one complained." What Manuka found most promising was that the story appealed to everyone, and even young people came back a second time with their parents. They rehearse at Manuka's home, sitting in a close circle to read lines in the muted light. Lasantha clarifies the script, translating some of the Sinhala parts, while the actors make suggestions to each other.

Manuka lives in Germany most of the time, but says "I don't want to see the rest of the world, I only want to come back here." As Sinatra sings "I've loved, I've laughed and cried. I've had my fill; my share of losing. And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing" , Manuka and the rest of the cast’s hearts are always in Sri Lanka and it takes that kind of love to make the relevant, constructive criticism My Way offers.

My Way plays at the Russian Cultural Centre Auditorium on August 18, 19, 20, and 21 at 7:30 p.m. Seating is limited to 100, and tickets are available at the Russian Cultural Centre, Rumours or Frangipani.

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