FERTILE GROUND – Antares undergoes MenAPause

Allan Perera and Indi Nadarajah discovered each other through the legendary Instant Café Theatre, of which both were early members. The mirth-provoking chemistry between them is reminiscent of classic comedy double acts like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Belushi and Akroyd, Cheech and Chong. What’s more, both happen to also be accomplished musicians and songsmiths.

As Loga and Singham, a pair of loquacious Indian pub pundits, they were an absolute knockout. The success of their double piss-take on all things Indian (and Malaysian) led to the formation of Comedy Court. And now Perera and Nadarajah have done it again, in drag, as Mertie and Thavi.

Their latest venture, ‘MenAPause’ opened to packed houses at the Actors Studio Theatre, Bangsar, on July 26 and ends its run on August 4. Looks like they’ve hit the sitcom jackpot once again – and the Malaysian funnybone – with their comic study in banality and bathos. My companion, who comes from an Eurasian-Indian household, said all the jokes cut painfully and hysterically close to the bone. For a very large proportion of the audience, ‘MenAPause’ must have been something of a cathartic experience.

Allan Perera’s “Mertie Rodrigo” is a bossy, sharp-tongued middle-aged Eurasian housewife with two teenaged kids, John-boy (capably played by the never-aging Patrick Stevens) and Shirley-girl (somewhat self-consciously portrayed by Valerie Dass). Indi Nadarajah plays “Thavi Kanagasabai” – Mertle’s terribly Tamil childhood friend – with nonchalant ease and tremendous gusto.

The fast and furious flow of colloquial wit kept everyone in stitches. Thavi’s revelation that one of the Selvadurai kids was the illegitimate product of Mr Selvadurai’s brief affair with a Malay telephone operator elicits this barbed response from Mertie: “Well, one thing you can say about Indians, they’re very fertile.”

A kitchen scene where Thavi waxes lyrical on the occult virtues of rasam (a spicy Tamil soup) leads to a full-blown eulogy on the culinary creativity of the sub­continent: “India is the source of all foods – so what if people are starving there – all the food comes from India.”

There are even a handful of songs thrown in (no Indian production is complete without a few song and dance numbers). Perera and Nadarajah are no Lerner and Loewe but the musical moments successfully kept up the play’s momentum – although it would be more accurate to describe ‘MenAPause’ as an extended skit rather than a play. A large proportion of the humour seemed purely gratuitous – thrown in just for laughs – but most of it was quite irresistible, even silly bits like the delivery boy’s misreading of Mertle’s name as “Mentle Rodrigo.”

John-boy examines the package from Aunt Agnes and sees a card inscribed: “Happy Menopause!” He asks his mother what the word means and Mertle’s reply is worth quoting: “Well, when a woman reaches a certain age, she gets more and more beautiful… until the very sight of her is enough to make men, er… pause.”

As to be expected the contents of the package from Aunt Agnes are rather naughty – the main item being a battery-operated dildo which Thavi innocently uses to stir her rasam. The stage is set for the arrival of Sister Margaret (winningly portrayed by Gracie Low) … and Mertle’s gossipy relatives from Penang. But, then, in Mertie and Thavi’s world, all relatives ever do is gossip.

First Published: 02.08.2001 on Kakiseni

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