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Widows

May 1998 Arial Dorfman's play about state sponsored terrorism was staged at the Lionel Wendt

Having established itself as a company able to pull off a huge production like “Julius Caesar – The Anatomy of an Assassination”, SLM turned it’s attention on a play that would in many ways revolutionize English theatre. For some years the big productions in Sri Lankan theatre had been confined to popular musicals and serious theatre didn’t seem to have either mass appeal nor box office success. SLM’s production of Ariel Dorfmann’s “Widows” dealt with the theme of civil insurrection, government sponsored pogroms and mass abductions of civilians. Being produced at a time when Sri Lanka was still recovering from the aftermath of the JVP led Marxist insurrection, “Widows” struck a cord with many Sri Lankans who had witnessed the brutality with their own eyes. Boasting a star- studded cast, “Widows” ran to full houses on all nights of performance and gave serious theatre a breath of life. John Benedict as the Lieutenant, Tracy Holsinger as Sophia and Feroze Kamardeen as the Captain were joined by Karen Balthazar, Michelle Perera, Ifaz Bin Jameel, Mohammed Adamally, Deanne Uyangoda, Ruwanthi de Chickera and Neluka Silva in forming a cast of talent and experience.

For over 3 hours the audiences were treated to a fine display of acting as the story of the village which lost all it’s men was brought to life on the Lionel Wendt stage. “Widows” tracks the story of a country torn apart by civil conflict and a village of women whose lives center around a river. Their country is recovering from a civil insurrection which has left thousands killed and many more missing. The widows in the village await the return of their men. The entry of a new army captain to the village with promises of re-building and forgetting the past sparks some hope in the younger women although the Captain’s attempts to reach out to the women of the village are constantly thwarted by his Lieutenant who hails from a rich, aristocratic family and who resents both the captain and the women who he says “need to understand their place in the social structure”. The Lieutenant tries to keep the captain from digging too deep into the past of the village, aware that his involvement in the disappearance of the men of the village will be exposed. In a chilling scene he reminds the Captain “Somewhere in this country right now, somebody is erasing a signature, burning a piece of paper to save your ass, and you save mine!” The village is thrown into turmoil when a badly decomposed, unrecognizable body washes along the river. Each woman claims the body as her own and the Captain is forced to decide whose father, son or brother the body is. Each woman turns up at the Captain’s office with a harrowing tale of loss and despair “They shot my sixteen year old son in the back of his head, I saw that, they did that” says one widow as she begs for her son’s body to give him a decent burial. Once the first body is disposed off, after much controversy another one washes up and the widows, unable to stand it any further stage a protest at the riverside. Faced with a serious challenge to his authority, goaded by the Lieutenant the Captains orders his men to disperse the women using maximum force if necessary. The play ended with the soldiers advancing on a group of women, about to shoot, about to use the gun to silence dissension, about to shatter the peace of the riverside…