At the Source: Race, Religion and “The Ramayana”

by May 24, 2010 at 10:19 pm 2,230 0

“Rama” and “Sita” in the Constellation Theatre Company’s “The Ramayana” at the Source theater. (Constellation Theatre Company)

From Cecile Oreste

The Ramayana, playing at the Source theatre on 14th Street NW, has catalyzed a conversation about race and religion among those who have seen it. Instead of shying away from criticism about the production of the great Sanskrit epic, Allison Stockman, director of Constellation Theatre Company, has opened the forum for discussion through its blog, as well as post-show conversations with the actors.

Responses on the Constellation Theatre blog come from all areas of the spectrum with some audience viewers of Indian descent expressing outrage and others appreciating the company’s interpretation of the classic. One comment shows a mixed reaction as the commenter notes the cast’s lack of diversity, but applauds the overall production:

With all of the nuances of skin color and racism, it really stood out to me that the most non-Indian looking person was playing the goddess Sita. That said, I really enjoyed the play.

Despite the debate about race and racism–perhaps in part because of it–The Ramayana has been sold out at almost every show since it opened. The Constellation has even added four new show times to its original schedule due to high demand (Saturday, May 29 at 2 pm, Sunday, May 30 at 8 pm, Wednesday, June 2 at 8pm and Saturday, June 5 at 2 pm).

According to Stockman, “picking the season is always a challenge,” but the selection of The Ramayana was inspired by a series of factors including a trip to India by the company’s director. Stockman, who studied comparative religion at Princeton University, also cited her personal interest in the issues explored by the play.

In addition, The Ramayana proved a great opportunity to collaborate with associate artist and master percussionist Tom Teasley, whose drums and beat boxing provided the musical back drop of the production. Moreover, the selection went along with the company’s mission to create epic, ensemble theater–transporting the audience to another world.

Whether or not you are an avid theater goer, The Ramayana presents “a wonderful combination of adventure, love, joy and friendship with layers of symbols and metaphors,” according to Stockman. Through live, original music, dance, fight choreography and acting, Constellation Theatre Company provides a “hyper-theatrical visual experience” and “a high entertainment quality production” in an intimate setting. “With a mixture of rich intellectual ideas and humor, there really is something for everyone,” she said.

The Ramayana runs through Sunday, June 6 at the Source, 1835 14th Street NW (at T Street NW). General admission tickets are $15 to $25 and can be purchased by calling 800-494-8497 or visiting


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