What happens after a natural disaster has left a city or country devastated? Not in the first days or weeks, when it's the focus of international news and fundraising campaigns, but when reporters have packed up and moved on to the next disaster or war zone and any clean-up effort should be well under way?
These questions have long fascinated actor and playwright Ahi Karunaharan, particularly after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which devastated his family's home village of Port Pedro on Sri Lanka's northern tip.
So he has written The Mourning After, the first full-length Sri Lankan play to be staged in this country, which considers the ramifications of natural disaster as seen through the eyes of a young expatriate from New Zealand who returns to his ancestral village in Sri Lanka. It will be staged by Auckland-based Indian theatre company Prayas to mark its 10th anniversary and a decade of South Asian theatre in the city.
Karunaharan first presented the bones of his work as a one-man graduate show at Toi Whakaari, the New Zealand Drama School. He's since transformed it into an ensemble piece with five actors and added to the narrative after a recent visit back to his village, his first since leaving at the age of 10 in 1989. He was inspired by what has and hasn't changed, especially since the tsunami, and surprised to find local people used humour to cope with rebuilding and reclaiming their lives.
"It's a play about a serious subject but it combines comedy and drama because I found people using humour, I suppose, as a way to give them the ability to talk about their grief and process it without it consuming them. I brought this into the script which is not about the disaster itself but about the aftermath and how people move on."
He says the themes will resonate with New Zealanders but they may be surprised by what they learn about Sri Lanka because many of us seem to only know about its civil war, which raged for 26 years and ended in 2009.
"I say I'm from Sri Lanka and people say, 'Oh, were you a Tamil Tiger?' and I'm disappointed the only thing they know about my country is the civil war. I want to show that there is so much more."
The war is mentioned in The Mourning After but so are Dilmah Tea, cricket, and the filming of Spielberg's Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. It will feature music by Sri Lankan composer Karnan Saba.
One of Prayas' founders, Sudeepta Vyas, says The Mourning After marks a departure from the community-based company's usual large-scale works of various, often folk-orientated, genres.
She says Prayas aimed to forge connections between the Indian community and the wider population and it has presented stories that resonate with increasingly culturally diverse Auckland audiences that grow with each new production.
After 10 years, the company wanted to do something that recognised the expanding opportunities for South Asian theatre-makers who are developing their skills within and outside of Prayas.
Karunaharan further developed the play at last year's South Asian Writers Festival, a first for Australasia, and which allowed writers and actors of South Asian descent to create new works for stage and screen. The festival was inspired by the Matariki development festival, which Karunaharan has worked on, and dramaturged by acclaimed playwright Hone Kouka and playwright, poet and producer of Tawata productions, Miria George.
Padma Akula, who directs The Mourning After, has been with Prayas, in everything from wardrobe through to production, for its entire 10 years. It's her first time as solo director of a full-length play, though she has co-directed and directed shorts including Crossbow Cat, which won a judges' award at last year's Short'n'Sweet theatre festival.
"There are great plays from India that we could have picked but we wanted to challenge ourselves and also go with a play written by someone from our own community so we start to nurture and nourish local writers," says Vyas.
While Sri Lanka is in the spotlight at The Basement, so is another corner of Asia. Performer Alice Canton has created and stars in Orangutan, which she says is a story about curiosity and survival inspired by her ancestry - her mother is from Sarawak in Borneo - and interest in the politics of the region. She says it questions the democracy of decolonisation, post-war trauma and mining in the Asia-Pacific region using an orangutan character, which came from a mask she carved while in Bali studying traditional mask carving and dance.
"The conflict of the orangutan seems to be a perfect metaphor for a beautiful country in a complex social climate," she says.
Canton says she's using the short season to test some of the concepts and design. She'd like to perform it in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The play has taken months of development, researching the history of Malaysia, interviewing family, poring through letters and photos, trying to piece together the mystery of the region. Canton has also been learning about industrialisation, global markets and resource extraction as well as re-exploring mask and dance.
"I wanted to develop a non-verbal work that could be viewed widely and without the limitation of spoken language. Masks can be profound and universal, and I wanted to paint rich images that could speak to multiple layers."
She hopes to visit Sarawak this year and spend time in an orangutan rehabilitation centre. "I did meet the resident orangutans in Singapore Zoo a few years back. They are full of grace, curiosity and aggression. When I look back at the photos I look terrified!"
What: The Mourning After
Where and when: The Basement, June 30-July 3 at 8pm
Where and when: The Basement, June 30-July 3 at 6.30pm