Though problems with pace and writing hold it back, MUSLSA’s 2015 charity play Power Trip is fun, light-hearted entertainment for a good cause.
Election candidates Sampath Gallage (Jay Jeeva) and Mukesh Tennakoon (Sid Nair) despise each other, and both men will stop at nothing to win the top job on their local council. Our introduction to the campaign comes via Shan (Nuwan Ranasinghe) and Jan (Kasun Rankiri), local TV hosts whose toothy grins and boundless energy never fail to engage the audience.
Watching the performance, I got the impression that MUSLSA cared more than anything that everyone have a good time. The show is genuinely funny, and every performer works hard to make us laugh. The humour is varied; running from random to toilet humour to cultural parody, but the pointed political satire was my favourite, with lines like “we have to let the public know that we only care about the people who vote for us.”
The show makes good use of space, with regular reconfigurations of the set and actors preventing the piece from stagnating visually. The set pieces were often ‘cute’ – a painted cardboard tree and bush, a boxy red car – but it kind of works, charming you with the lack of pretension. (It was to my utter delight that a crew member held up the sun for not one, but two entire scenes.) However, scene transitions were often overlong, and the wait meant the story repeatedly lost momentum.
The writing also falters at the start of second act, as the plot jumps the shark to lead the Gallage family through the worlds of their favourite films, on a mission to find the batteries to the TV remote and/or make Sampath realise he needs to reconnect with his family. The plot device is a bit lazy, and mostly functions as an excuse to re-enact scenes from famous movies. Nonetheless, it leads to one of the best parts of the show: a Bollywood-inspired dance sequence. The scene is wonderfully choreographed, well-costumed and beautifully lit. It’s glorious, and I confess myself a little disappointed when it ended and we had to return to the regular action of the play.
Although ostensibly about a political rivalry, MUSLSA’s Power Trip is really a celebration of family. Some of the strongest writing in the show comes from exploring the connections we make, or try to make, with the people we love. A conversation between Sampath and his neglected wife Deepika (Natalie Perera) in which she begs him to engage with his family is surprisingly touching.
There is a gorgeous sequence near the end where we see Sampath upstage sitting at a desk, trying to find the right words, surrounded by a haze of fog and golden light. There are no words spoken, just music. As he gets up to give the final speech of the play, crew members move in a blur around him, becoming campaign aids, press photographers, whoever the play demands on his unhurried walk to the podium downstage. It’s a stunning tableau, and skilfully directed. After all his mistakes, in this moment we are with him, as he reminds us to “work a little, dance a little, and love a little.” This is the balance Power Trip achieves, and urges us to find.
The Union Theatre, Union House: 16-18 April 2015