Gods, heroes, lust and loyalty: ACT Theatre bravely and successfully tackles Hinduism’s enormous epic, “The Ramayana”
Reducing a 24,000-verse poem into a three-hour theater show isn’t easy, but Seattle’s ACT Theatre has done a convincing and creative job of it. The “Ramayana,” that 2,500-year-old epic about the divine prince Rama and his beautiful wife Sita in their exile, tribulations and final glory, is a tale that few in India would dare to condense like this. Yet ACT’s world premiere version, full of stunning costumes, clever effects, joyous dance and heartfelt acting, nails the philosophy with a Western brevity and wit.
Of course, they’ve left a lot out. Intrinsic to many Asian cultures, the Ramayana has been recited for days on end by itinerant storytellers, told with puppets, made into lengthy films and televised in a series of Sunday broadcasts that had India’s millions at a weekly standstill. It tells Rama’s life from child to adult, and all the layers of history that went before him and around him through dozens of side characters. It’s not only a big work, it’s a big ask of Western audiences: unfamiliar gods, unpleasant principles like self-immolation and a world where human flaws sit in the same body as divine or demonic powers. To bridge the gap, ACT directors Sheila Daniels and Kurt Beattie have pared the story down to the essentials – Rama’s boyhood strength and wooing of Sita, his exile with Sita and brother Lakshman, Sita’s abduction by the demon king Ravana, her rescue by Rama and Hanuman the monkey god and her final trial by fire to become Rama’s accepted queen.
If you know the story, you’ll notice all the depth that’s skimmed over. But if you haven’t it’s a ripping good tale, and ACT’s superb cast knows exactly how to tell it. Read more »