Madonna School presents 40th production of Ramayana

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Senior Will Murphy, cast as the demon king Ravana, and Carl Ward as Prince Ram, pose for photos with audience members following Mount Madonna School’s 40th annual musical production of Ramayana! which performed June 7-10 in San Jose. Pics Sara Sobkoviak

Vidya Sethuraman
India Post News Service

SAN JOSE, CA: Since it was founded in 1978, Mount Madonna School has annually performed “Ramayana!,” an ancient epic adapted for more modern audiences and set to a mix of traditional and contemporary music. A cast and crew of nearly 200 — involving every student at the school from preschool to 12th grade put on this year’s show Thursday through Sunday at the Mexican Heritage Plaza theater in San Jose. This magical theatrical production of drama, dance and song has been entertaining audiences for 40 years.

The story of the Ramayana, as first told by the poet Valmiki, has endured for 2600 years as one of the world’s most widely-read classics. The production focuses on a small part of the larger Hindu epic’s story and tells the story of Prince Ram, who, banished from his homeland of Ayodhya for 14 years, leaves with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman to seek a new home in the dangerous jungles of Dandaka.

On their journey, they encounter an array of colorful beings, including tribal folk such as Guhan and gentle forest animals, giants and wizards, heroic monkeys like Sugrivan and Hanuman, Marich in the form of an enchanted golden deer, a kingdom of demons led by the evil 10-headed Lord Ravana, and a wild, fire-breathing dragon. Nearly 200 students performed together June 7 to 10 in creating a world of magical characters who encounter danger and love, good versus evil, duty, heroic action and sacrifice.

In the preschool years students may begin by taking part in the ever-popular forest animal scene. Gradually they work their way through various small parts as dancers, singers, monkeys, demons, and martial artists until they finally emerge in the lead roles in their high school years. Behind the scenes, a large supporting cast of parents, teachers, alumni and Mount Madonna Center staff take on the roles of prop makers, costumers, makeup artists, technicians, musicians, stage crew, and concessionaires. Also within the action were rousing choreographed dances from Bharatanatyam to hip hop, as well as plenty of stage combat and spectacle.

Sampad Kachuck has served as the director of the play for many years and sees it as an important cultural experience for not just the students but the broader community. “An annual rite of passage signaling the school year’s completion, our version of the Ramayana is hopefully respectful to the Indian traditions from which it oriented as well as organic to our own legacy, which we’ve nurtured for nearly four decades,” he said.

Mount Madonna school’s Ramayana, is a Broadway-caliber production, unique in its ambition. Forty years running, the show is a major contribution to the artistic and cultural life of the San Francisco and Monterey bay areas, the expression of a living tradition with ties to India and the global Indian Diaspora, and a unique treasure for generations of students and theater goers.

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