Good Going Despite Shortcomings

Chaotic Harmony Theatre is certainly not short on energy and enthusiasm, going by the number of productions this young company has staged since its inception about a year ago. The latest was a collection of four one-act plays called Shorts (what else?), featuring two original works by David Lim and Ho Sui-Jim. The other two, both set in New York City, were by David Mamet and Violet Lucille Fletcher

It was a warm and supportive audience – largely of mums, aunts, cousins, and former collegemates – that filled The Actors Studio Box at the final performance. We’re happy and proud to see young people (average age 20) get together and create their own theatre scene in KL. It’s obvious that there are some active minds with lots of creative potential behind Chaotic Harmony, and plenty of goodwill too.

But I almost nodded off midway through the first play, A Beautiful Mine, starring Samira Sahuri and Eddie Lau, written by David Lim, and directed by Abdul Qahar Aqilah. There were moments of lucidity when a dimensional breakthrough seemed on the verge of occurring, but in the end banality won out. The happily married couple trapped in a humdrum routine and comfortable habits never quite attain the heightened awareness necessary to escape the gravity of an artificial existence. Nor were the actors up to the task of drawing the audience into a subtle vortex of ontological unease. It was by no means a simple play: with a little tightening and tweaking of the script, I could see more mature actors pull it off. However, the relatively green performers and first-time director lacked the experience and stage savvy to shift us out of our comfort zone so that we could experience a metaphysical initiation of sorts and escape, even if fleetingly, from The Mechanical Matrix of Meaninglessness.

The second item showcased some up-and-coming acting talent but might have gripped our imaginations more fully had the action been set locally instead of in some American city. Shareena Hatta, Pavanjeet Singh, Amil Fadhil Khan, Malik Taufiq, and Kan Yin Yee turned in acceptable performances, but the overall effect reflected too closely the theme of alienation and the impossibility of “meaningful communication in an indifferent world.” David Lim, who wrote the first play, directed The Blue Hour: City Sketches, by David Mamet. It appears the young man is obsessed with the quest for meaning and purpose in a seemingly pointless mechanical existence, which is indeed an excellent place to begin. The vignette that had the biggest impact on me was the one in which a young woman launches an intensely personal attack on the institutional impersonality of her doctor. It was morally reminiscent of that terrific scene in the New Testament where Jesus, flail in hand, chases the merchants from the temple.

Ants, Ho Sui-Jim’s stark melodrama of family psychodynamics and the communications breakdown between two generations of Chinese was undoubtedly the most dramatically satisfying item and provided the backbone of the entire programme. The script was crisp and intelligently crafted, and there was some pretty good acting from the cast of four, though a few moments of overacting crept in and detracted from an otherwise polished presentation. Ho Sui-Jim and Timothy Chew portrayed father and son with moving intensity; William Chin was superb as the skeleton in every family’s closet; and Vishnu Murthy’s earthy school chum-in-need brought comic relief to the proceedings. Ants is certainly worth fine-tuning further and fleshing out a little as a feature-length TV drama. The emotional issues it addresses have universal significance and shed a great deal of light on contemporary Asia and so-called “Asian values.”

Violet Lucille Fletcher’s perky exercise in the theatre of suspense, Sorry, Wrong Number, was entertainingly directed by Sanjiv Gnaneswaran. The acting was generally good, even if it never went beyond the level of a school drama. What impressed me was the effective use of stylized black-and-white backdrops against a black curtain to denote different settings – a fine example of low-budget problem-solving! Shareena Hatta did a good job as the bedridden invalid protagonist, though she had trouble convincing me she was a lonely, paranoid, middle-aged woman stuck in a New York apartment with only a telephone for company. However, the character roles were adroitly handled by Amil Fadhil Khan, Malik Taufiq, Azmir Abdullah, Lau Wai Ping, and Alia Hilyati.

Chaotic Harmony Theatre’s Shorts was an ambitious project worthy of applause, despite all its minor flaws and shortcomings. I found the overall enthusiasm and sincerity of the young company very refreshing, and the outing brought back fond memories of happier days in amateur theatre, long before the days of big budgets, big egos, and offstage politics. If they could only maintain the same level of vibrant, freshfaced ingenuousness whilst acquiring the necessary experience and technical competence to go fully pro… or is that another impossible dream?

First Published: 06.09.2002 on Kakiseni

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