This blog entry’s headline doesn’t really reflect anything – except my tendency to come up with bad puns.
That and the fact that you’ll need to go and get tickets now because the only ones left are for Saturday’s matinee. But I’m not going to say it’s a pity should you miss Pariah because, hey, if Teater Ekamatra’s two previous blackbox shows Charged and Nadirah got a restaging at the Man Singapore Theatre Festival, then who knows?
Else, you can always fly to Kuala Lumpur next Thursday where the racially-charged production will be staged again (Malaysia’s Instant Café Theatre Company artistic director and Cake/TNS fave Jo Kukathas directs the piece on both runs and it’s an all-Malaysian cast).
Inspired by the idea of mashing up the late Yasmin Ahmad’s final film Talentime and the controversial 1971 novel Interlok by Abdullah Hussain, playwright Alfian Sa’at concocts a scenario of a multi-racial group of Malaysian student friends whose coming of age moment is sparked by the discovery of a missing page in one of the character’s copy of Interlok.
Why is that an issue? Because that said page contains the word “pariah”, and the novel chronicling the family trees of its Chinese, Malay and Indian protagonists from the 1900s had some pretty derogatory racial stereotypes: the Chinese described as pigs, the Indians described as coming from the pariah or outcast caste.
In real-life, Interlok was at the centre of controversy early this year, with members of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) holding a series of protests that eventually led to revisions of the novel taught in schools.
All these are packaged in that sort of light-hearted storytelling mode reminiscent of Yasmin’s race-issue-laden teen romance movies, or at least the one or two that I’ve been able to watch (the characters in Pariah have the same names as in Talentime, albeit in a different context).
Alfian ingenuously weaves among moments of budding romance, teenage crushes on teachers and boys being boys some really complex, confrontational situations where the four friends’ (three boys and a girl) innocent, racially-blind relationships with each other are challenged by an awakening to their respective positions within Malaysian society.
I liked the idea of “softening” the blows by approaching it from the perspective of teenagers, of the shifts between comedy and tension, but at the same time, not completely convinced by the occasional sight of them spouting arguments as if politically-seasoned adults.
I also have to add, being a non-Malay speaker, I’ve surely missed much of the dialogue’s nuances (and the beauty of the language itself, particularly since Alfian literally waxes poetic at certain points). And tonight’s wonky surtitles also didn’t help.
But all in all, Pariah‘s worth a re-staging here in Singapore. Quite enjoyed the performances of the male actors and it has just whetted my appetite for Afian’s first Yasmin Ahmad “tribute” play Nadirah, which I had missed the first time around.
(Try your luck getting Saturday matinee tickets here.)