The approximately 300-member cast and crew include about 175 students of Mount Madonna School, Watsonville, preschool through 12th grade. They rehearse for two months and put together a spectacular production that sells out every summer.

With a new cast and talent, there is a fresh interpretation in each year’s production. “Every year, we adjust and tinker script, song choices, and dance design,” says director Sampad Martin Kachuck, who has an M.A. in directing children’s theater from San Jose State University. This is his 23rd year directing the Ramayana.

“In this year’s production, we have a few more main stage dances being choreographed by the students, which provides a very different dynamic,” says Kachuck. “The actors have also great design input into their stage fights. The prop and monster team is working on some special excitements such as a new mask design for the vultures.”

A crew of talented volunteers constructs the many masks employing a mold-and-plaster cast method. Starting with modeling clay, they first create a clay model of the mask. The clay is covered with plaster. When the plaster hardens the clay is removed and the plaster mold filled with latex. Once the latex sets, it is removed and the mask is then ready for painting. The finishing touch is the detailed painting, which “completes the illusion,” according to Rajeshwar Mark Tabler, who designs some of the many masks, puppets, and scenery for the Ramayana.

On stage the elaborate and fantastic masks heighten the drama from one scene to the next as each character—Hanumana, Jatayu, Ravana, Kumbhakarana—makes an entrance. Just when the story climaxes in Lanka, approaching the final confrontation between Rama and Ravana, and the air becomes unbearably thick with excitement, you are relieved by a slower-paced musical interlude that underscores the pathos of the abducted Sita’s plight.

The set is purposefully simple, says Tabler. In addition, with so much action, and so many actors, there’s a concerted effort to make more of less. “It’s really such a huge spectacle—all the glitter, all that happens—the sheer scope and magnitude of the play means there’s not a lot of room for a set,” Tabler notes.

One new effect to look for this year will be set and scenery changes done through theater lighting effects.

The students infuse the show with their own unique talents, touches of Californian humor, and faithful characterizations. “While there are certain givens to the characterizations, each student is encouraged to develop their own perspective, emotional base, and connection to the character’s situation,” says Kachuk.

The result is that the spirit of the story shines through unmistakably, affirming its universality.

—Ashok Jethanandani

June 9-10, 7:30 p.m.; June 11, 2:30 p.m. World Theater, Sixth Ave., CSU Monterey Bay, Seaside. $25. (831) 582-4580.

Ashok Jethanandani

Ashok Jethanandani, B.A.M.S. is a graduate of Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar. Jethanandani now practices ayurveda in San Jose.