14-year-old SOTA student Rian Asrudi is probably the youngest participant at the festival. And we just have to start with a shout out for an impressive pro theatre debut. His quiet, understated vulnerability and innocence shining through while performing alongside his seasoned co-actors in Teater Ekamatra’s Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa (Offerings For The Victims Of Amnesia).
It’s no mean feat considering he’s in both of the two-actor plays that are part of young playwright Irfan Kasban’s poetic trilogy taking on elements of Islam.
The first two of these have been previously performed, and it opens with Genap 40, my fave of the lot. A dialogue between an expectant mother (Suria personality Mastura Ahmad) and an angel (Rian) who’s supposed to breathe soul into her yet-to-be-born child, it’s a beautiful work that unfolds in slow, measured steps.
There were apparently loads of symbolisms, which of course, just whizzed past this non-scholar-of-all-things-Islam. But that didn’t stop me from admiring its wonderfully set up platform stage that ended in a small water pool. The steady sound of water dripping, the ritualistic actions of lighting candles and preparing 40 glasses of tea by angel and mother, respectively, all giving play its rhythm as we marched towards its unexpected twist in the end. There’s no doubting Mastura’s solid performance but I found myself drawn to Rian’s turn as a graceful-yet-emotionally detached angel.
From what I could get from the surtitles, Irfan has a way with words. But his vision of staging is equally interesting (just as long as you find a place where you can actually see the surtitle screen. Long story.).
In W.C., he erects a transparent cubicle in the middle, inside of which you see an ambiguous situation played out. Alluding to the sacrifice story of Ibrahim and Ismail (the Biblical equivalent would be Abraham and the other son, Isaac), a man (Sani Hussin) and a boy (wanna guess?) are trapped inside a toilet cubicle. It’s a jarring set-up that evokes claustrophobia and occasionally disrupts one’s view (I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt re: blocking the surtitle screen `cos I really like the set).
Equally jarring is what’s happening inside. One’s not really sure if the two are trapped or are hiding from a mysterious character (heralded by loud footsteps). Again, much of the allusions of certain actions and lines are lost and instead what comes out (for me at least) is a mix of senior-junior camaraderie and a sexual tension between the two protagonists.
The final and newest piece, 94:05, is the most different in terms of tone and form – a naturalistic, casual monologue by 40-year-old Ahmad (Sani) who finds parallelisms between his life and certain stories about the Prophet Muhammad, central of which is the one in which the latter’s heart is taken out and cleansed by angels even as Ahmad himself has his own literal chest-sliced-open moment. The dialogue that occurs is between that of the character and the audience, with Ahmad encouraging audiences to close their eyes or sing a song as he tells the story of his life.
While it’s the most accessible and relatable (in a more contemporary sense), it’s also understandably the rawest of the three and perhaps Irfan, who also directs, needs to work on streamlining the emotional cohesion of the piece (a pivotal moment for Ahmad elicited a few giggles from the crowd).
(Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa runs until Saturday. Details here. A tip for non-Malay-speaking folks: be sure to ask for seats with the best view of the surtitle screen! Wink!)