By profession an orthopaedic surgeon and anatomist. Mark Amerasinghe’s active engagement with drama commenced in 1978 when he acted in the “University Peradeniya Dramsoc” production of Chekov’s ‘The Bear’ directed by Thiru Kandiah, and also for the first time played as narrator in Valentine Basnayake’s musico-dramatic sketch, “Strange Old Man”.
Subsequently, he assumed this role in many productions including a dramatized narration of Goethe’s ballad ‘The Earl King, (in English translation by Valentine Basnayake and myself), followed by a rendering of the Schubert song in German with Valentine Basnayake at the piano. He also was the narrator in Thiru Kandiah’s musico-dramatic production of Don Qixote.
His first venture into the experimental field of recasting a novel into the mode of a one-man drama, a monodrama, was in 1997, when he produced, directed and acted in Tolstoy’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ followed by Albert Camus’ ‘The Fall’. In both instances using the then available English translations.
Always interested in the French novel., initially read in English translation, his reading of Albert Camus spurred him on to study the French language, with the aim of delving deep into the original work to obtain a more authentic viewpoint, which would help to enhance the dramatic effect of his presentation.
He is a keen vocalist and has given recitals at the British Council Colombo(1983, ‘87) and the British Council Kandy (1995, ’96).
Mark Amerasinghe was awarded the distinction of Chevlier des Arts et Lettres by the French Government in 2006.
For all these presentations, the script writer,producer, director, stage manager and actor were one person - Mark Amerasinghe.
So these were truly One Man Shows!
Mark Amerasinghe’s Monodramas
Over a period of some years now,(from 1997 to date) I have presented on stage, in English, nine monodramas, adapted from novels, seven of which are well-known French novels. The partiality towards the French novel is due to the fact that, while as a young student I had read some of the works of Flaubert, Camus and Gide in English translation, and developed an interest in the works of French novelists, in recent years I commenced the study of French at the Alliance Française in Kandy, Sri Lanka, because I was convinced that the true flavour of a work could be really relished only in the original language.
The seven French novels that I have adapted and scripted for stage from the originals, and presented as monodramas in English are, Camus’ L’Étranger (The Outsider)- presented as ‘The Outsider, [4980 words](Gallimard), Victor Hugo’s ‘Le Derniere Jour D’Un Condamné (Librio)-presented as ‘The Last Day in Death Row’ [5976 words] André Gide’s ‘La Symphonie Pastorale’ (Gallimard)- presented as ‘Forbidden Fruit’[6171 words], Maupassant’s ‘Le Horla’ [8777words] (Hachette) and most recently Marguerite Youcenar’s ‘Comment Wang-Fô fut Sauvé’  (Gallimard ) Antoine Saint Exupery’s “Little Prince[in 2007] and Orphee .
Presenting these novels as monodramas entailed three distinct processes:
1.translation of the French to English (even where English translations were available, I preferred to make my own translations, because it compelled me to make an in-depth study of the original text),
2.adaptation, which involved an act of transcription, and the writing of a dramatic script
The most challenging of these three processes was the writing of a dramatic script, which while retaining the authentic voice of the author and the tone and essence of the content of the novel, was at the same time not too long to be handled by a single actor, nor too tedious to be sat through, without discomfort, by an audience, whose attention had to be caught from the very start, and held for at least one hour, sometimes, perhaps and hour and a half.
It was the production of an attention-holding and convincing script that determined the success or otherwise of the dramatic presentation. The stage presentations which were made on a practically bare stage, except for a table and chair, and the minimum of costuming, if at all, were preceded by a Preamble which set the scene of the action and gave those unfamiliar with the text (the majority of the audience, were not accustomed to reading French texts even in English translation) the basic outline of what was to follow. The audience had a chance of reading the preamble before the drama commenced.
Since in writing the scripts for all the monodramas basically the same devices were employed, I will make use of Camus’ ‘The Outsider’ as an example to illustrate the process of scripting. Quotations in English are from the dramatized, adapted script. The original French when quoted is in italics.
In ‘The Outsider’ I made use of two narrators, although the original had only a single narrator –the protagonist, Mersault. This presentation was in two acts. In effect then, we had two narrators and two monologues, yet one player. Using my own terminology the devices I used in writing this script were the use of:
1.a second narrator: in effect one player playing 2 roles at different times and hence presenting 2 monologues. (As stated this was done only in ‘The Outsider’)
3.extensive cutting with focusing.
4.compacting with translocation, remolding, regrouping and synthesizing – recasting.
SPACE-TIME DISLOCATION WITH INTRODUCTION OF A SECOND NARRATOR.
The introduction of a second narrator was linked with the space-time dislocation, so the two will be considered together. In the original novel the protagonist Mersault, the sole voice throughout the text, begins the novel by telling us about his mother’s death and funeral – Aujourd’hui, maman est morte…J’ai reçu un télegramme de l’asile: ‘Mère dé cédée…’and the events that followed, in a strict temporal sequence which reaches a high point with the killing of the Arab. All this is in Part 1 of the original novel.
Part 11 of the original commences with Mersault telling us about his arrest and incarceration, continues with a description of his preliminary interrogation by the magistrate, his days in jail before the trial, the details of the proceedings at his trial up to the point of his being sentenced to death, and ends finally with a description of his days in jail awaiting the guillotine.
In the adapted script I turn the text around by beginning with the public prosecutor’s address to the jury, which in the original novel naturally appears in the latter part of Part 11, towards the end of Mersault’s trial. In the original the public prosecutor’s appearance, demeanour, cross-examination of witnesses and address to the jury is brought to our attention indirectly, by Mersault.
Ici, le procureur a essuyé son visage brillant de sueur. Il a dit enfin que son devoir était douloureux, mais qu’il l’accomplirait fermemement. Il a declaré que je n’avais rien à faire avec une société dont je méconnaisis les règles les plus essentielles et que je ne pouvais pas en appeler à ce coeur humain don’t j’ignorais les reactions élémentaires. ‘Je vous demande la tête de cet homme a-t-il dit, et c’est le coeur léger que je vous la demande. Car s’il me’est arrive au cours de ma déja longue carrière de réclaimer des peines capitals, jamais autant qu’aujourdhui, je n’ai senti ce pénible devois compensé, balance, éclairé par la conscience d’un commandement impérieux et sacré et par l’horreur que je ressens devant un visage d’homme où je ne lis rien que de monstreux[Part 11,page 150] ‘My duty is a painful one, but it must be done without flinching. The prisoner in the dock has, I repeat, no place in a community whose basic moral principles he flouts without compunction. Nor, heartless as he is, has he any claim on your mercy. I ask you to return such a verdict that this court is left with no option but to impose upon Mersault the supreme penalty prescribed by the laws of our land, and I ask it without a qualm. In the course of a long career, in which it has often been my duty to ask for a capital sentence, never have I felt that painful duty weigh so lightly upon me as I demand from you, in the name of the people of France, the verdict of, guilty of murder without extenuating circumstances. There is no more to be said.’ … .
The adapted script directly introduces the public prosecutor to the audience. We now actually see and hear him in the courtroom, as he delivers his damning and highly prejudiced indictment of Mersault, ending with a fervent plea for the passing of sentence of death on Mersault. The drama begins with the prosecutor in gown and wig commencing his address ‘Gentleman of the jury, this is the last time I shall stand before you on the floor of the Court to address you in the case of the Republic of France vs Mersault. The details of Mersault’s crime are so etched in your mind…’ and ending with ‘ There is no more to be said.’ This space-time shift is done for dramatic impact. Act 1 is reserved for the public prosecutor.
In Act 11, in the original we see Mersault in his cell, awaiting trial. In the dramatized script, Mersault, in prison clothes, is in his cell after his trial and conviction… He soliloquises, ‘The sun is setting and it is the hour of which I’d rather not speak – the nameless hour, I call it – when evening sounds creep up from all the floors of the prison in a sort of mournful procession. They moved me to this cell last evening, after the verdict…’ Le jour finissait et c’était l’heure don’t je ne veux pas parler, l’heure sans nom , où les bruits de soir montaient de tous les étages de la prison dans un cortège de silence Part11,page 119]…
From a space-time point of view, given the point at which we see Mersault on stage, in his cell, the script seemingly maintains the same time sequence as the original text, though by giving Mersault the right of soliloquy the audience is taken back in time to events that are described in Part 1 of the original text. So, while the audience looks upon a scene at a particular point of time, the viewer-auditor is projected imaginatively by script and player to another space and another time. … ‘There is no mistaking it. Yes, I’ve been talking to myself…Talking about , among other things, mother’s funeral and the events that swiftly followed… Mother’s funeral. The telegram read. ‘Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deepest sympathies’. I took the 2pm bus to Marengo, where the Home was some fifty miles from here… ‘Mère décédé. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués… L’asile de vieillards est à Marego, à Quatre-vingts kilometers d’Alger. Je prendrai l’autobus à deux heures…
One of the most difficult challenges I faced when writing the script was deciding what to exclude, in an attempt to convey the essence of the novel and of the character being portrayed, without boring the audience, and without doing violence to the author.
This challenge was met by deciding on what aspects of the novel I felt needed to be highlighted. The aspects I decided to focus attention on were:
1.Society’s rejection, amounting almost to fear, of a man who sought to be himself in a natural, unobtrusive, detached unaffected way, a man who was honest with himself and about himself, who refused to prevaricate, not because he was adopting a high moral ground, but simply because that was the way he was. He was different. So society considered him dangerous.
2.The weakness of a system of justice which permits a clever, calculating public prosecutor to manipulate the social prejudices of a jury, consisting of ordinary men and women whose feelings could be preyed upon.
3.Mersault’s very positive approach to life and a total absence of a fear of death. Though he quite emphatically believed that life was meaningless, this approach demanded that the individual give his own meaning to life, by living it to the full in his own way, to the exclusion of God and the hereafter.
4.The question of capital punishment.
Those portions of the novel which brought into focus the above aspects were retained with or without modification, while those which had no bearing on them were ruthlessly excised. On the other hand, the brief exchanges between Marie and Mersault about love and marriage are brought into focus, because it clearly reflects Mersault’s sense of almost brutal honesty. ‘Even with Marie I could not pretend. When she asked me whether I loved her, I said no…When Marie asked me whether I would marry her, I replied, ‘Yes, we could marry any time you like, but it is not of much importance…’ Le soir, Mairie est venue me chercher et m’a demandé si je voulai me marier avec elle. J’ai dit que cela m’êtait égal et que nous pourions le faire si elle le voulait…Elle a voulu m’a demandé si je l’amais. J’ai repondu comme je l’avais déjà fait une fois, que cela ne signifiait reien mais que sans doute je ne l’amais pas [Part 1 page 64]…’ Here again is another example of space-time dislocation, because this exchange which in the text appears in Part 1, in the script appears in Part 11 , as part of Mersault’s soliloquy while in prison.
COMPACTING WITH TRANSLOCATION, REMOULDING ,REGROUPPNG AND SYNTHESISING…RECASTING.
TRANSFERENCE AND AUDIENCE INVOLVEMENT/
These will be considered together because the public prosecutor’s address illustrates all of the above, apart from the space-time shift referred to earlier. The material for this address as presented in the adaptation is obtained from:
1.Mersault’s own account of the shooting of the Arab( Part 1 in the original) Mersault had given all the details without distortion to the examining magistrate at the preliminary enquiry and confirmed them at the trial when the magistrate’s report was read out to him by the presiding judge.
2.Information extracted from the witnesses –the Warden of the Home, the door-keeper, Marie, Raymond (Part 2, of the original, in the cross-examination by the public prosecutor)
The Warden and door-keeper of the home provided the information about Mersault’s behaviour at the Funeral.
Marie confirmed information that had been provided earlier by Mersault about their ‘liaison’ as referred to by the public prosecutor.
Raymond gave the information about his job and his relationship with Mersault.
3. Mersault’s own account of his meeting Marie in the swimming pool on the day after his mother’s funeral. (Part.1 ). This information too had been given to the examining magistrate.
4. The public prosecutor’s actual final address to the jury as it appears in the text. (Part 2). It is here that he refers to the case of patricide. ‘Tomorrow, gentlemen of the jury, this court will produce for trial a man who has perpetrated the most heinous of crimes – the crime of pratricide. I trust that this jury will not falter in its duty tomorrow, when it decides and decides justly, that a man who did to death the father that begat him, has no right to live among us. In like manner this criminal, Mersault, morally guilty of his mother’s death, is no less fit to do so. Indeed, the first crime led to the second. This prisoner now in the dock, guilty of murder by neglect, of his mother, provoked by example and legitimized, if I may say so, the crime of patricide. Mersault thus, is guilty of that murder to be tried in this court tomorrow…’ “Cette même cour, messieurs, va juger demain le plus abominable des forfeits: le meurtre d’un père”…Toujours selon lui, un homme qui turait moralement sa mere titre que celui qui portait un main meurtrière sur l’auteur de ses jours. Dans tous les cas, le premier préparait les actes du second, il les annonçait en quelque sorte et il les légitimait. “J’en suis persuade messierurs, a-t-il ajouté en éelevant la voix, vous ne trouverez pas ma pensée trop audacieuse, si je dis que l’homme qui est assis sur ce banc est coupable aussi du meutre que cette cour devra juger demain. Il doit être puni en consequence”.[Part 11, page149,150]
In the adapted script these sections from different parts of the text are shifted out of their usual position and repositioned (translocated) with or without modification. Three unrelated events, Mersault’s behaviour at his mother’s funeral, his meeting up with Marie and the case of patricide are pulled out from their usual setting and brought together to prove a point (translocation, with compacting and regrouping)
Mersault in the original refers to the response of his attorney at one stage of the trial to a remark made by the public prosecutor. Mais mon avocat, à bout de patience, s’est écrié en levant les bras,de sorte que ses manches en retombant ont découvert les plis d’une chemise amidonnée ‘Enfin, est-il accuse d’avour enterré sa mere ou d’avour tué un homme?’ .(Part 2, page 142 ).
These words of the defence attorney are conveyed to us by the public prosecutor himself in Part 1 of the script. During his address, the latter actually pauses with a surprised look, giving the impression that the smooth flow of his address has been interrupted, and says: ‘Oh my Lords! My learned friend raises his arms to high heaven, and in the best traditions of the French theatre, imploringly asks, “My Lords is my client on trial for killing an Arab or for burying his mother” This is what I refer to as transference or substitution.
There are many instances of translocation throughout the adaptation. In the text, we learn about Mersault receiving the telegram informing him of his mother’s death in the first few lines of the book. In the adaptation the telegram is referred to for the first time in Act 2, when Mersault reminisces/soliloquises as he lies in prison after his conviction.
So while we actually see Mersault in the cell he occupies after his conviction, he takes us back in time to an earlier period, when he was in his previous cell from which he could see the sea, which played so important a part in Mersault’s life. The script continues, ‘I used to spend hours peering out of the window of that previous cell’ in a passage which is part extrapolation and part made up of material taken from different parts of the text (translocation and regrouping).
‘But now against the backdrop of the music of the waves, emerges another sound – a voice, my own voice. I’ve been talking to myself. There is no one else to talk to. Talking about mother’s funeral and the events that swiftly followed’ Thus the fact of his talking to himself, which is mentioned in the text early on in Ch 2 -‘But at the same time, I heard something that I hadn’t heard for months. It was the sound of a voice; my own voice and there was no mistaking it ‘- is brought out in the script in Act 2 in words which smoothly leads to the telegram, mother’s funeral and the events leading to the shooting of the Arab. This shifting of textual material provided me with the opportunity of permitting Mersault to give his version of what actually happened.Mais en même temps et pur la première fois depuis des mois, j’ai entendu distinctement le son de ma voix…Je me suis souvenu alors de ce que disait l’infirmière à l’enterrement de maman…[Part 11 page 119,120]
It also permits Mersault to express his love of the sea and of the good times he had with Marie. There is a deliberate juxtaposition of mother and Marie, two people who played an important role in his conviction. ‘Mother, the strange look on the face of the porter when I told him there was no need to unscrew the loosely put screws on the lid of the coffin so that I could see her body. The sound of the sea keeps drumming against my ears, reminding me of Marie… ’And then follows a section devoted to his feelings for Marie In the text the incident of not wishing to see the body is referred to quite early in Part 1.
‘On l’a couverte, mais je dois devisser la bière pour que vous puissiez la voir.’ Il s’approchait de la bière quand je l’ai arête. Il ma dit ‘Vous ne voulez pas?’ J’ai répondu: ‘Non’ Il s’est interrompu et j’êtais gêne parce que je sentais que je n’aurais pas dû dire cela…[Part 1, page 12]
The script goes on ‘The day I was taken in I thought it was a matter of time before I was free again, and in fact on that first day in court, my lawyer assured me that all would be well’ Mon avocat m’avait assure qu’ils ne dureraient pas plus de deux or trios jours…[Part 11 page 121]. From mother’s funeral to Marie and the highly sensuous relationship with her, a smooth transition is made to the first day in court. Here is pure manipulation and rearrangement of text. In the novel, quite early, Mersault relates in sequence the events that followed his mother’s death.
I do not introduce Mersault directly to the audience until he is in prison after his conviction. The public prosecutor has given his version of what happened. I now make use of Mersault’s soliloqy to present not only his reminiscences of what actually happened but also certain thoughts which I imagined would have passed through his mind. These imagined thoughts, textually justified, I arrange in such a manner that it permits a seamless dramatic continuity. This brings me to:
By extrapolation I mean introducing material especially in Mersault’s soliloquy in Act 2, which is not found stated explicitly in the text but, which I feel I am justified in introducing,; because knowing Mersault through the text, I imagine that those thoughts could very well have passed through his mind, although Camus does not articulate them. An example of this is the explicit expression in the adaptation of Mersault’s love of the sea. I do this particularly because apart from Mersault, Camus himself loved the sea and beaches at Algiers.
‘I used to spend hours gazing out at the sea through the window of that earlier cell. The sea at Algiers with its sun-soaked plumed waves…. I feel the hot tingling embrace of wave after wave and I think of Marie.’ These words are not actually found in the text but there are at least 3 places in the text that justify my putting these words into Mersault’s mouth. Marie m’a rejoint alors et s’est collée à moi dans l’eau. Ella a mis sa bouch contre la mienne. Sa langue rafraîchissait mes lèvres et nou nous somme roulés dans les vagues pendant un moment…[Part 1 page 54]
Then in P.1, Ch 6 p48, again-‘Then Marie proposed that we should swim tandem…’, and further details are given about that frolic in the sea. In prison he can’t help but think of the sea. ‘Still, there was one thing in those early days that was really irksome: my habit of thinking like a free man. For instance I would suddenly be seized with a desire to go down to the beach for a swim. And merely to have imagined the sound of ripples at my feet, and then the smooth feel of the water on my body as I struck out, and the wonderful sensation of relief it gave…(P.2, ch2, p 67)
In the adaptation at one stage Mersault says ‘Of course, I’d told the examining magistrate everything as it had really occurred…it had nothing to do with high principles , it was just my way of doing things.’ Mersault does not actually utter these words in the text, it is an extrapolation, but his behaviour justifies my putting these words into his mouth, because it underlines probably the most important feature of Mersault’s character – his fidelity to the truth even at the risk of his life, a fidelity which was not put on, not based on any lofty principles, not even indifference, as might be suggested, but just his way of doing things. ‘ Even with Marie’ he goes on, ‘I could not pretend’ . These exchanges with Marie about love and marriage are almost taken unchanged from the text and are retained because it again illustrates Mersault’s almost brutal honesty.
At one stage of the trial, in Act 2 of the adaptation, Mersault draws attention to a very important aspect of the public prosecutor’s address designed to prejudice the jury: ‘Throughout the trial more time was spent on mother than on the Arab’ These words are not actually found in the text, but I felt that Mersault would have pondered that thought. Again, ‘Everyone wanted to know whether I really loved my mother. Even my own lawyer asked me before the trial whether I loved my mother. I was quite taken aback. I would never have dreamed of asking anyone a question like that. Would you ?’
Il (mon avocat) m’a demandé si j’avais eu de la peine ce jour-là. Cette question m’a beaucoup étonné et il me semblait que j’aurais été très gene si j’avais eu à la poser…[Part 1 page 95,96]
There is another device used by me that the last part of this quote from the script illustrates, namely audience involvement, by throwing the question, ‘Would you?’ directly at the audience.
I spend some time on a further extrapolation about Mersault’s mother, because I am convinced that Mersault’s perceived indifference towards his mother, had nothing to do with his true feelings. He was being realistic, down to earth. He was accepting her death as every Buddhist is exhorted to do by the priest at a post-funeral sermon. So why should we fault Mersault? ‘The public prosecutor in particular appeared to be most upset that I had not wept over mother. But then, there was nothing unusual or unexpected about mother dying. Like anyone else mother had to die at some time or another. Of course, I’d rather mother had not died, at that point of time, I mean. But my tears would not have changed matters. But one thing seemed certain, mother’s death had a great deal to do with the verdict’
Here again I put into Mersault’s mouth words which are not actually uttered in the text, but which I imagine Mersault would have voiced in his prison soliloquy. Furthermore, the last line allows a smooth transition to the pronouncement of the verdict of death by the presiding judge. ‘The verdict intoned solemnly by the presiding judge.’ The need for dramatic continuity of the monologue called for careful re-arrangement of material so that I could make a smooth transition, without jolting my audience..
When Mersault recalls the shooting of the Arab, apart from cutting out some detail, there is very little manipulation of text. On the other hand I extrapolate material to make explicit what is implied in the text with regard to the true reason for Mersault being in possession of Raymond’s revolver, as opposed to the accusation of deliberate intent hurled by the public prosecutor. ‘My hand closed tight on the butt of Raymond’s revolver. It was only then I realized that it was still with me. I had forgotten to return it. Again it did not seem of much importance, giving it back, as a matter of urgency I mean’ The last 3 sentences are not actually spoken by Mersault, but they are thoughts that could very well have passed through his mind, and need to be emphasised because of the diametrically opposed and prejudiced view expanded upon by the public prosecutor.
That my interpretation about Mersault’s lack of intention is correct has textual justification. In Part 1, this exchange between Raymond and Mersault takes place.. The latter has deliberately followed Raymond Moi, je l’ai suivi quand même. J’ai eu l’impression que Raymond savait oû il allait…Puis Raymond a porté la main à sa poche revolver…Puis Raymond m’a demandé,’ Je le descends?’…Je lui ai seulment dit: …’Ça ferait villain de tirer comme ça…Prends-le d’homme à homme, et donne-moi ton revolver. Si l’autre intervient, ou s’il tire son couteau, je le descendrai’ [Part 1 page 85]
The description of the actual firing of the five shots is followed by a deliberate extrapolation introduced by me to focus attention vividly on the central thread that runs throughout the novel, the connection that is made by prosecutor, judge and jury between Mersault’s mother’s death and the death of the Arab. The striking difference in the attitudes and environments of the two bodies might very well have struck Mersault at that moment: the hot, sunbaked (that sun once again) sands (described in Part 2 of the text) on the one hand and the blazing mortuary lights (described in P.1 of the text) on the other.
‘The shots, five in all, rang out loud, crisp, clear in the still silence, rapped on the door of my doom, shattered the calm of the beach, shattered my future. The warm, inert body lay sprawled untidily on the burning sand. Suddenly I thought of mother; her cold body stretched out, neatly I imagined, in the cosy confines of her cushioned coffin under the blazing lights in the spotless gleaming mortuary’
The last section of the closing scene of the dramatic presentation is pure extrapolation. The novel ends without Camus giving us a hint of whether Mersault’s appeal was successful or not. Mersault and reader are left in doubt. Pour que tout soit consommé, pour que je me sente moins sesul, il me restait à souhaiter qu’il y ait beaucoup de spectateurs le jour de mon execution et qu’ils m’accueillent avec des cris de haine.[Part 11 last para]
For a dramatic presentation I find this ending unsatisfactory. I take matters into my own hands. The entire trend of the novel more than suggests to me that Mersault’s appeal fails and that he is executed. So the adaptation follows almost to a word the last few sentences spoken by Mersault in the text, but continues beyond that ending:
‘For the final consummation of that happiness, for me to feel less alone, it was only left for me to hope that at my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of hate.’
‘But listen! I hear footsteps; and I catch the first gleam of dawn. The steps grow louder, get closer; now, just outside my cell, they stop. The key turns briskly, the heavy iron door hinges slowly inwards with a groan. The people of France, have come for me at last. I am ready. Outside, a howling, thirsting, hungry mob awaits me. You have to put me away. I am, The Outsider – L’ étranger!’