Masterman Mano | Daily News

Masterman Mano

As far back as 1966, I remember seeing Professor Ediriweera Sarachcahndra’s musical play: Pemato Jayati Soko at the Sukhavathi theatre in Peradeniya. In this play, the leading character named Uddala Brahmin was played by the young player, Jayalath Manoratne. Most of us were spectators. We felt the vibrant performance of Mano (the friendly shortened name of Manoratne). He was a player par excellence who excelled in singing, dancing and other required elements that made the play a lively memorable piece.

As time passed, Mano, who graduated from the Arts Faculty of Peradeniya University, was seen as an artiste who possessed several creative skills inclusive of poetic creation and lyrical composition. This is visualised in his first play script titled Mahagiri Damba. Manor wrote the play script, acted in it, and sang his own compositions in the best manner possible. From there onwards he had the best influence from the great masters like Professor Sarachchandra and Dayananda Gunawardana. The latter perhaps introduced him to the much-discussed genre, docu-drama.

Lively performance

This led the young artiste Mano to take up the next steps in the creation of plays like Talamala Pipila, Guru Taruwa and Sandagira. In all these plays, Mano exhibited the skill in the selection of themes, play production, direction and all the possible ingredients that go into the making of a live performance with the roots in the soil where he performed. He had the capacity to drive deep into folklore studies as well as historical and social episodes.

To my mind, one of the best creations to come from the pen of Mano is a recreation of the life and works of the celebrated poet Mahagamasekara. This play with many insights into the works of Sekera was titled as Lokaya Thani Yayak. But the playgoers were not quite fortunate enough to see it due to some unavoidable circumstances. But Mano was lively and encouraged by his inner visions. This, I felt, is a hereditary element in him.

He was never seen discouraged by the detrimental social forces that happened to abound. He was always seen as a social thinker. One good example of this thought process is observed in his play that goes as a tragicomedy titled Andarela. Herein, he delves into social humour creating several age-old court jester legends woven around the local jester of much fame, Andare. But he surpassed the barriers of the comedy genre.

Mano, as a scholar, had the deep sense of creativity gained through the folk knowledge of legends, tales and religiosity. He has left no stone unturned in the search for research material. They all culminated in the creative process that had the hallmark of Rabindranath Tagore in plays like Post Office, Sacrifice and Chandalika. Mano was well-read in Sinhala classics from Jataka tales to Jataka ballads as well as commonplace poetic works such as Pattini Hella and Vadan Kavi Potha. All these aspects hidden in him led to be a theatre researcher. As such, his thesis on aspects of docu-theatre in Sri Lanka was awarded the coveted PhD degree by the Sinhala and Communication Studies Department of Sri Jayawardenepura University. I was lucky enough to be one of the examiners.

Urban creativity

Mano was seen taking time off his normal duties to write several short stories and short narratives. The two-volume short narrative is titled Dawasa Tavama Tarunai. This creative piece revolves around the life of a village lad who had come to the urban sector. Yearning to go to the village or his home place, he believes that the time is ripe for him to be matured enough to treat his elders.

At a certain stage in his career, Mano’s old batchmates who had prospered had helped him to write and produce a play titled Sudu Redi Hora. The text of the play won the State Literary Award for the Best Play Script. In this manner, several play scripts were awarded the literary awards. Though our good friend is no more, his works and literary attempts are being discussed widely. This had made it possible for him to take some of his plays to countries abroad via the good intimacies of his companions. Mano was not only a theatrical personality. He was also associated with Radio Channels as well as television channels. He pioneered a series of children’s programmes titled Sindu and Bindu with his companion, Jayasri Chandrajith. He too was helped by one of the well-known film actors Joe Abeywickrama in the creation of the comedy series called Sakisanda Eliyas.

I remember the long discussion I had with Mano when we started rehearsing our play Socrates that won nine awards for the State Drama Festival in 1991, 92. I felt that he knew the theatre theories of Stanislavsky at his fingertips when I told him that this play is going to be laid in the translation of Grotowski theatre form. Mano knew what it meant. He used the term if I remember correct: Actor directs himself knowing the strengths of acting.

Above the average

He was well versed in theatre education. This enabled him to train some of the young amateur performers to take up the aspects of singing, dancing, miming, and other aspects far more seriously than the average performer. While engaged in the Socrates rehearsals, I remember how he yearned to study life and saying of the thinker and his pupil, Plato. Then he started reading in English and Sinhala translating the Greek plays as written by Euripides, Sophocles and Aristophanes. As the play ‘Clouds’ happened to be an insert in Socrates, Mano knew the two types of Socratic ways. January 12th happened to be the day Mano departed from our midst. But until the last stages of his life, he was engrossed in theatre activities, perhaps forgetful of his own bodily pains and ailments. Mano was always found in a happy mood.

As a social thinker, whose patterns of thinking had seeped into the contents of his play script, the young theatre researchers ought to take up the work and vision far more seriously. The university studies leading to theatre arts ought to plan theatre studies on Dr Jayalath Manoratne, in order to retain the legacy left by him over the years.