Written and directed by Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke, the creator of ‘Paraya’ and ‘Only Soldiers’, The One Who Loves You So is a hilarious yet heartbreaking exploration of romance in the city for the disenfranchised; particularly a young homosexual man searching for love and companionship.
Starring Brandon Ingram and Benjamin Aluwihare, the play is set in one “hovel” of a Colombo apartment, where a wealthy upper-class Sri Lankan man (Vidura) encounters an urbane British banking consultant (Nick) for a one-off tryst via a gay dating app.
What was originally meant to be a casual hookup turns into something more when the two men feel a deeper connection neither of them expected to feel, followed by a chance encounter leading to a second night together, allowing their relationship to develop.
Vidura’s nervous energy sets the tone for the realistic rendering of an awkward love story spanning just two days, enticingly countering Nick’s cool assuredness. Together they trade insults, make love and share their innermost thoughts.
The painfully honest nature of the production was almost brutal in exposing the deep-seated concerns involving the LGBTQ community in Sri Lanka. Even a “trust-fund baby” such a Vidura is unable to seek out a partner in Colombo, without the aid of an app which is largely used for brief sexual encounters.
The queer-eye watching, RuPaul loving folk in Colombo’s liberal bubble often times forget that LGBTQ individuals are still not accepted in our country, and if even the most privileged of the lot are unable to truly be themselves without fear or prejudice, what hope is there for those of whom are in rural areas struggling with their sexuality?
There was an overwhelming number of issues that the play addressed; the importance of safe sex, the difficulties in getting tested, fetishising of certain parts of the LGBTQ community and even addiction. So much so that at times it felt as though the story was struggling in its attempt to be universally appealing; however we are later made to realise that, such is life, it doesn’t conveniently happen one social issue at a time. Life happens all at once.
When Vidura and Nick’s time together comes to a close, we are left with the reality of bitter heartbreak and it is a near guarantee that not a dry eye was in the house. It is almost tragic how Vidura steals himself for the inevitably painful goodbye and how Nick, while truly distressed, does not appear to have much of a choice.
After two hours of watching hilarious banter and a beautifully blossoming romance, seeing it nipped at the bud is jarring and one almost feels as though you’re invading on a profoundly private moment between two lovers and the only civil thing to do is look away and give them their much deserved privacy.
A deeply personal portrayal of the playwright’s own struggles, “this is a play born out of heartbreak”, where he puts himself in the centre of the narrative giving way to his own journey of self-discovery, “what began as exposing and uncomfortable, soon became cathartic and clarifying”.
From a technical standpoint, the play was truly a visual dream; the whole thing was gorgeously lit courtesy of Ryan Holsinger responsible for lighting design. The set design itself was quite wonderful, and the minimalist expression perfectly complemented the neon reverie fashioned to create an almost whimsical atmosphere. However, the music, while sparingly used, lacked thought and was not particularly inspiring. The pre-show playlist though was good fun and lulled the audience into a comfortable state of bliss awaiting what would be quite an emotional experience.
The play isn’t particularly groundbreaking in that it adopts a rather traditional format for the retelling of a very personal story, but its fast paced and clever dialogue delivered by charismatic, wholesome performances ensures an experience that is well-rounded and extremely enjoyable.
Sri Lanka is not entirely a stranger to queer art; however, the levels of relatability and raw honesty achieved in just a two-hour long narrative was impressive. In a country that is obliviously set in their ways, that aren’t even their own, The One Who Loves You So is a thought provoking and much needed account to stir the presently unhelpful and stagnated sociopolitical landscape of Sri Lanka.
Review by Dimithri Wijesinghe
Photography: Tavish Gunasena and You’re My Favorite