Enthusiasm and feeling permeate MUSLSA’s Annual Charity Play On Time, which follows the Fernando family as they move into a new neighbourhood, next door to notorious old grouch Bernie Wilson. Manjitha Wijesinghe skilfully portrays this character both as a spirited young man and a curmudgeonly seventy-year-old. Sharini Arachchige is delightful as the bubbly seven-year-old Lucy; and Ariana (Inushi Ilangamage), the unexpected hero, drew laughs in the second Act as she grew from superficial, tech-addicted teen to no-nonsense leader. Crowd-pleasers were Malith Ranatunga and Shalini Harasagama as caricatures of long-suffering parents, drawing on classic stereotypes for their winning dynamic as the overbearing wife and the indolent, oblivious husband (who after several scenes dedicated to searching for their children suddenly asks: “where are the kids?”).
Everyone gave their all, but Inushka Dassanayake poured his soul into Sammy, the dweebly, hard-done-by middle child who cannot seem to do anything right. Dassanayake’s commitment to the gangly celebration dance “Yeezy taught me” is priceless. The production is rife with such knowing references: some sly, as with an interaction taken from The Notebook; and some taking centre stage, as with the rice-centred parody of the classic Paul’s ad: “I just want milk that tastes like real milk”. Unfortunately, the brilliant vendor who deadpanned to perfection in an over-the-top Australian accent is uncredited.
The production’s obvious energy couldn’t quite mask the lengthy transitions between scenes, a few missed lines, and a circular plot. Getting caught up in the exuberance of its characters, the story takes a while to get around to the actual time travelling, and on occasion runs thin. Characters leap to seemingly random decisions that coincidentally further the story, as when the parents go to Bernie’s house to inquire if he has seen their children, then break in, assume he knows what happened to the kids, rummage through his belongings and come across a letter addressed to his ships-in-the-night lover, C.J. (a tragically beautiful Natalie Perera), which is then left out for the siblings to find. Voice-over narration by the irrepressible Godfrey (Trehan Silva) in the final act ties the plot together by spelling out the theme of taking action and not living with regret, which while heavy-handed, is a relief. A spectacular Bollywood-style dance interlude raises the second act, beautifully choreographed by Preeti Shukla and performed by the 11-member chorus. The dedication of the obviously tight-knit MUSLSA community is evident in the bows, as they dissolve into an on-stage dance party that carries the production out on a rousing high note.
MUSLSA’s production of On Time ran from the 7th to the 9th of April in the Union Theatre, Union House. All proceeds from the show are going to the Sacred Heart Orphanage in Kandy, Sri Lanka.