By Vanessa Surian
The title didn’t inspire much confidence. A flaccid attempt at humour which I imagined would be replicated throughout the production. “eight” was fine. No bitchy remarks there. But: “(insert witty tagline here)”? Erm, I promised myself I wouldn’t do this but – (insert bitchy comment here). Nevermind. Whats in a name right?
eight: (insert witty tagline here) directed by the college bound Kelvin K. Wong (he doesn’t want us to say which college), and staged Sunday 17, April 2005, at The Actors Studio Bangsar, features: Eight college bound young adults in 8 short plays, 10 minutes each. It got going with ‘Missing’ by Doreen Loo, a rant about funerals: how they take up time, distract you from life, and seem more like family reunions than solemn partings. I’ve suffered funerals too. This simple identification with the character made me feel like (*spotlight shining and choir humming*) I am not Alone. And I like the simple twist at the end. The whole thing started to look promising right then.
Similarly, ‘Paintings’ by Chan Mei Yuan, about an interracial relationship and the opinions of ‘well-intentioned’ folks around the couple, is familiar. I anticipate this is how it would be like if I were to own up to my parents about my boyfriend of a different race. I liked how the characters had their backs turned to the audience, seemingly non-existent but for the 10 second loops in which they offer their opinions to the protagonist. The politician relative (uncle?) who championed racial integration in public but not at home, was a nice touch.
So far so good. Points were made, short, sweet and well illustrated. I was surprised, I laughed, but best of all I recognised the thoughts by my fellow city-trapped youths. But Sharmini Harikrishnan dashed any hopes I had that her play ‘V’ would be a play about talking vaginas. Yes, we are treated differently from our male siblings. Yes, we do tear each other down. Yes, most men do assume women are largely around to satisfy their humping needs. It was promising right up until when she dismisses it all with the fact that it’s a marvellous and fulfilling thing to be a mother. Bleugh. What a rip off.
The problem was some of the actors try a little too hard to bring you into their world. Chief of them was ‘Animal’ by Lam Wai Yee. It’s filled with: animals should not be poked, prodded and sliced opened for our development; they should not be petted, tamed and trained for our amusement, etc. She has a point, and I do concur, but the whole circling the protagonist at a heartbeat pace while chanting keywords (“Dangerous… Experiment… Kindness… !”) thing was a trifle overdramatic. I felt absolutely no sympathy for her over-acting, annoying monkey and would have gladly tested the latest toxic hair straightening products on her.
Along this line, we have ‘Terima Kasih, Mama’ by Rosheen Farvein. A letter from a woman, helpless to save herself from the abusive husband her mother had chosen for her. Rosheen’s voice was frequently drowned out by the rain as she wove through the rest of the cast toting her umbrella. But if the point was to make this abused woman sound detached and slightly archaic then I guess they achieved it. It sort of made me feel a little like RTM had invaded the stage.
The whiny, please-identify-with-me shtick was thankfully interrupted by Daniel Dennis’s ‘La Negara’. Not so much a play as a stand up comedy, the rest of the Malaysian cast sat around and served as laugh track while Daniel delivered a mat salleh’s view of our country. Which is that he looks like Tom Cruise to us and that the milo kurang manis is never kurang manis. Witty at times and slightly pandering to an audience only too willing to laugh at his gentle jibes at us. Us Malaysians, that is. It’s alright, he will be punished. Our colonised minds will make us treat him pretty darn well! He’ll see!
‘Traffic’ by Prakash Gopalakrishnan, the closing item, was unlike any of the above plays. It was confusing, slightly incoherent, and eventually, plain irritating. But maybe that was the point. The cast walked around bumping into each other making alternately angry, happy, excited, mundane or just plain insane gibberish as Prakash listed a list of aphorisms which I don’t remember now. Sort of weakly strung together, it never quite fulfilled the potential the idea had the capacity for.
My favourite piece was ‘Shut Up’ by Dominic L. Luk, which had deep family drama, but nicely disguised with macabre humour. It seemed on the surface to be a biting comedy about a boy who would not shut up. Rife with gunshots, suicide and off-ed family members, it was a good antidote to the more serious plays for my TV-trained concentration. In a way it was popcorn, with all that gunshots and casualty. But at the same time it was the most layered and multi-faceted of the plays, with its themes of isolation, and the sort of contempt that family members breed in you like no one else can – the sort of desperate clinging on to people whom you probably couldn’t live without but you do anyway mostly because they allow you to exist. It’s the sort of hate that motivates you to go to college, get a job and move away because it’s hard to get a gun in Malaysia. Well, when you can’t get guns or move away, the theatre will have to do.
Vanessa Surian did the whole youth theatre thing once. She has recovered. No, not really.
First Published: 03.05.2005 on Kakiseni