After the dragon has been slain

The Dragon, a drama written by the late Russian playwright Eugene Schwartz, is a modern day political fairytale. It tells the story of Lancelot, who on his quest to slay the dragon, stumbles upon a community governed by a hierarchy of bureaucratic clowns who are using the dragon to cover up their own desire for power. Sound familiar?

It’s unlikely to be coincidental that the Sri Lankan Janakaraliya group of dramatists chose this piece as one of the adaptations that were performed when they took to the stage in Colombo, after two years of touring more remote areas of the island. In the same way that Schwartz himself demonstrated the repression, militarism, racism and brutality of his homeland under Stalin’s regime from the 1930s to 1950s, modern adaptations may be able to subtly highlight the same issues that continue to plague other parts of the world more than fifty years later.

Fairytales, in a sense, are timeless in that they tirelessly address the ultimate issue of good versus evil. But modern warfare has evolved a long way past this simple scenario, leaving citizens with bad guys on both sides, and certainly no prince charming on the way to save the day. These days, the metaphorical dragon largely represents the war on terror that masks years of atrocities, human rights violations, corruption and discrimination. Terrorism may appear like the one great evil that, once eliminated, will allow us all to live happily ever after but what is left after the dragon has been slain is also an important question: One that should have been asked before invading Iraq and one which should be asked now in Sri Lanka, and other parts of the world, where military campaigns are being stepped up in aggressive yet largely futile efforts.

In a bid to raise awareness about the issues in Sri Lanka, Janakaraliya’s main objective is to bridge the divides that exist between the nation’s polarized communities by coming together as a multi-ethnic troupe and performing in both Sinhala and Tamil. The Sinhala interpretation of ‘The Dragon’ which translates as ‘Makararaksha’, along with other productions, has already toured Anaradhapura, Polonnaruva and Colombo and was designed and implemented by creative duo Parakrama Niriella and H.A. Perera. The pair have dedicated themselves to this project to encourage support in tackling the issues surrounding the country’s conflict, one which has seen developments in recent years that are not unlike some of the conditions faced by Eugene Schwartz when he wrote the original play. Some of his work, such as ‘The Naked King’, was banned and censored by authorities; he lived during volatile times where ordinary people left for work in the mornings and were never seen again.

Like most fairytales, ‘The Dragon’ ends with revolution winning the day and love conquering all, which is something that seems far, far away in the present climate. But the overall message that Schwartz tried to convey with his work was that misery and evil are unavoidable realities, but that it is up to the people to overcome this without giving in. The Janakaraliya group is doing just that by continuing to take to the stage during these dangerous and unsettling times. Schwartz was another who practiced what he preached and never gave in. Two years after he died at the age of sixty, ‘The Naked King’, an anti-fascist allegory which had caused the biggest controversy of his career, finally made its debut on a Russian stage in 1958. At least he got his happy ending.