ACT's Ramayana: A New Family Tradition for Diwali?

ACT's Ramayana: A New Family Tradition for Diwali?

Larae lobdell

RAMAYANA Could become Diwali’s answer to A Christmas Carol.

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ACT Theater's adaptation of the Sanskrit epic Ramayana has been in the works for two years with two playwrights, two directors, more than 70 artists, and a half-million-dollar investment. That's large stakes for a regional theater, and it has generated both anticipation and trepidation. Just days before it opened, Nevada-based Hindu leader Rajan Zed issued a press release expressing "concern" but "hope" that ACT's Ramayana would be respectful of the "sacred scripture." And audiences wondered how ACT would distill the vast action-adventure among gods, demons, people, and monkey-men—who take breaks for long dialogues about ethics—into a three-hour stage play.

The answer was to start small and keep it accessible. This Ramayana begins with a charming, slender boy (Akhi Vadari) singing a few lines from the text before it eases, actor by actor, into the story about a hero-prince Rama (the muscular Rafael Untalan) who was conceived, fell in love with Sita (Khanh Doan), was eventually banished, won a war with the demon-king Ravana, and returned to his throne.

Even at the three-hour mark, the production feels elegantly spare and direct in its language (by writers Yussef El Guindi and Stephanie Timm) and staging (by directors Kurt Beattie and Sheila Daniels). Instead of reaching for Bollywood-style lavishness, the design team relies on simple fabric, bamboo, vivid costumes by Melanie Burgess, and a few well-timed visual surprises (puppets, flash paper, actors rappelling onto the stage). This intelligent restraint lets the 14 actors do the work of evoking, say, an entire kingdom in flames or Rama negotiating with the ocean. The two-year workshop process has paid off with an unusually grounded and cohesive ensemble and a few highlight performances, including Brandon O'Neill as the scampering, boisterous monkey-hero Hanuman. ACT is already known for its popular annual staging of A Christmas CarolRamayana could become a similar tradition for Diwali. recommended


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I'm mystified by why Hanuman is the only character in the play to use a Hindi accent. To this audience member, it came off as racist. It seemed to say "Indians are monkeys." I was very uncomfortable being in a room full of white people getting the biggest laughs from a stereotype. Shame on the actor for the choice; shame on the directors for allowing it; and shame on the critics for lauding the performance.
Posted by melville on October 25, 2012 at 11:03 PM · Report this
Kiley says "Instead of reaching for Bollywood-style lavishness" and Seattle Met's review says "Toss in a healthy dose of Bollywood glitz, and what’s not to like?" Is the play a lavish spectacle or not one wonders?
Posted by Mirandaw on October 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM · Report this
Why oh why was this directed, choreographed, designed and primarily acted by white people? Why oh why don't the reviews mention this fact? Why isn't anyone besides me pissed off? Why are we all pretending that this is multiculturalism at work? This is cultural imperialism at work, nothing more.

Posted by BCastro on November 1, 2012 at 9:16 PM · Report this
If you have any questions about my point, please take another look at the Irish lad posing in the picture above.
Posted by BCastro on November 1, 2012 at 9:18 PM · Report this
Very simply, did we see the same play? I appreciate when companies take a chance. This should have been held off a year to bake more.

1. 45 minutes can be cut out of the play. During many parts of the play I spent time looking at the crowd rather than watch the action on the stage.

2. Play it for laughs or play it serious. Some levity is needed, but going after the laughs does not make sense in parts where action occurs.

3. Costume design. Seriously, you go full out on the costumes for the kings but then dress their people in black leotard. Looked like you just ran out of good ideas. The helmet thing on top of the daughter of the evil king????

4. Do not understand the scene with the Giant. Were we going for the'Wicked' wizard of oz scene. It could have been so much better with the correct light design.

5. What was with the dance in the giant scene and then they couldn't let her leave because they probably figured they had payed her for her time. Very distracting.

The run seems to sold out which is good for ACT.

The run is sold out which is bad for audiences.

Take more time. Make me believe!
Posted by TitusIn on November 12, 2012 at 9:02 AM · Report this

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