Words by Mallory Hemerlein
Photos by Scott Suchman for Constellation Theatre
The Ramayana, one of India’s two great epics (the other being The Mahabharata), is currently running at The Constellation Theatre Company. It begs the question of Dharma and human existence and leaves you with more questions than answers. It’s a chimerical story to keep any Lord-of-the -Potter in a galaxy far far away entertained—making it especially impressive performed live whilst preserving its fantastical nature.
Ancient Hindu tales from India aren’t a familiar topic for most of us; but they should be. Indian epics like The Ramayana, transcend beyond our ordinary beliefs of the universe. They ask us to temporarily suspend our understanding of reality to accept— talking monkeys, demons with a propensity for sado masochism, multi-headed kings, blue god’s, luminescent goddesses, golden deer and the ability to leap 200 miles across an ocean— as normality.
The small but mighty cast of thirteen, many of which are doubling or tripling roles, left their still-beating-hearts on the intimate, one set stage. The almost theater-in-the-round stage gave the audience a participatory role. At roughly 24,000 verses in the poem’s Sanskrit entirety, the epic was condensed to 2 hours and 15 minutes of major highlights.
Besides stellar acting, two standouts deserve recognition. First being composer/live percussionist Tom Teasley. Who simultaneously beat-boxed, drummed, played instruments making sounds I thought impossible sans Logic, creating an additional character of the music. The Washington Post calls him “a percussionist in the widest and most exuberant sense of the word”—no need to say any more. The second standout being costume design, whose intricacies were abundant. The many masks were simple enough to leave room for the imagination, yet encompassed much of the character’s symbology (one familiar with the epic would notice). The silk, Indian-influenced gown donned by Sita and Ram’s all- white satin outfit were enviable for any closet.
There’s no wonder the troupe is back by popular demand from its inaugural run last year. With 7 shows left—all sold out—I wish I could encourage you to go buy tickets immediately.
The play is a journey of exile, undying love, jealousy, actualization of previously unrealized potential, tests of Self and devotion, epic battles between monkeys demons and Gods, sexually exerted power and the (in)ability to abstain from temptation, tests of faith, and intrinsic knowledge of the universe. This specific adaptation sometimes trivialized the underlying lessons—even adding pedestrian humor involving drunk monkey’s and blue butts—for (unnecessary) comic relief, detracting from the beauty the rest of the play exuded.
98% of the play was perfectly divine, and the epic itself…. well, it’s epic. Since you can’t go see the play (unless you add yourself to the wait-list and hope for a golden ticket) you should at least watch this animation, Sita Sings the Blues—A trippy interpretation set to exquisite 1920’s jazz vocals by Annette Hanshaw. And next time The Constellation Theatre resurrects The Ramayana, buy tickets yesterday.