By Kakiseni Paparazzi
Despite the intense stage presence that he has, I must admit, it is a relief to watch a Gavin Yap play in which he is not present on stage, and you aren’t subjected to his usual bag of hyper tricks. Though he seems a little nervous about it, the Boy Wonder is certainly excited to finally try and make good his new title of Director-in-Residence at KLPac. It’s a title that has been the subject of some industry curiosity: no doubt the man is talented, but what has he directed?
Since returning to KL, after studying Theatre Arts and Psychology in the US, and then Alternative Forms of Performance and Contemporary Dance in London, Gavin has been one of The Actors Studio’s most bankable stars. Watch how he plays it to his audience, hamming it up, punctuating every syllable with its own unique expression, and when he can, offering various body parts to his appreciative fans – bending over to display jeans-enhancing butt (Hamlet) or lifting blouse to show off abs (Romi and Joolee dan lain-lain). Like a former husband of Nicole Kidman, Gavin knows he sells. Even when he writes plays, Gavin has to act in them, chewing his own chewy lines. For his next production, however, Gavin can rely neither on his dashing looks nor his stage presence, both of which have reputedly brought in the masses to the theatre. And he is wise enough not to be directing himself too.
Watching the rehearsals, I feel Gavin has allowed his actors, all very talented comic actors in their own right, to be themselves, and in some cases, even held them back a little when they tended to go over the top. Preposterous as it sounds, in the first play of this Double Bill, And They Used to Star in the Movies, Ari Ratos, Mary George and Lennard Gui play Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck, respectively, in their later years. The story presents our favourite Disney characters at a bar (tended by the affable Na’a Murad), and when they are not whining, or humouring the occasional fan (the cute Cheryl Tan, last seen in KL Young Singers), they are slinging dirty Disney laundry at each other. It’s as hilarious as it is dark: Mickey is waiting for that elusive comeback, Minnie pines about love (having divorced Mickey many years back), and Donald gloats about his new success as a Broadway producer. Written by Campbell Black, the play seems to be less about “what if these cartoon characters were real?” than about the hidden pathos and missed dreams underlying an industry built on selling a perpetually happy, Technicolor, cutesy vision of reality.
The second play is, for me, even more gut-bustingly funny. Titled Hidden in this Picture, and written by Aaron Sorkin (who gave us A Few Good Men and the West Wing series), the play is about two theatre practitioners making their first big budget studio film. The humour is layered, and Gavin and Na’a have adapted it to Malaysia in such a way that you will recognise a number of local individuals in it. Lennard Gui deadpans a Princeton scriptwriting nerd to outrageous effect. Ari plays the desperate director, Mary George is the over-bearing producer and Na’a the truck driver turned time keeper. It is a play about artistic egos and the necessary practicality of creating art and entertainment.
What’s interesting for me, therefore, is that these plays almost seem like Gavin’s response to accusations that The Actors Studio produces only ‘entertainment’ sort of plays, ie. simple, inconsequential and escapist in nature. This, of course, sets up a false dichotomy, as if entertaining cannot also be meaningful. Some escapism is necessary in this sordid life, but because we all swear by the power of theatre, it follows that we should expect a little more from it. Why else would we be trying so hard to lure the public in? Just as there are folks accusing some theatre practitioners of fluffiness, there are also folks accusing other practitioners of taking things too seriously. Let’s have a balance lah. Entertaining as it should be, theatre also offers a level of self-reflexivity that makes it valuable to a community. And Double Bill is rather inward-looking, and not in a self-indulgent way. I am not suggesting that Gavin’s play will change lives (I’m not saying it won’t either!). But I like the fact that Double Bill turns a mirror on itself and offers us a glimpse into the seedier, sadder, rougher world of showbusiness. It’s pretty consequential entertainment to me. So, will he live up to his title yet? Come and find out for yourself.
Double Bill: And They Used to Star in the Movies + Hidden in this Picture runs from Wed 14 – Sun 18, Sep 2005, at KLPac – Pentas 2.
First Published: 09.09.2005 on Kakiseni