Metaphors Be With You

The moment you start focusing your attention on them, metaphors wriggle right out of the woodwork, springing from the ground beneath your feet like mushrooms.

Back in 2000 – that pivotal year in which the Earth’s axis was realigned by the crowning of Neocon Emperor George Bush – I gave up on romance, succumbed to forwarding bulk emails, and stopped calling myself a man of letters. At that low point in my life, I was visited by the letters A and Z. Like a scene out of Sesame Street, they showed up at my door, cleverly disguised as Adam Broinowski and Zahim Albakri.

They were on a mission to gather facts and impressions about the Orang Asli amongst whom I live. We spoke to some villagers, trekked to a spectacular waterfall, and discussed environmental issues. Zahim explained that Adam was doing research for a play he was incubating, and that he was in Malaysia for three months, on a cross-­cultural project sponsored by Asialink (an organisation under the University of Melbourne and the Myer Foundation dedicated to promoting public understanding between Asia and Australia).

Adam was sufficiently charming for me to put him on my permanent email list; he would occasionally zap me a few lines from Japan, where he had joined an avant­-garde theatre company called Gekidan Kaitaisha, or the Theatre of Deconstruction.

On April 28th, 2007, I bumped into A and Z again. It was at the home of Marion D’Cruz, where a lovely feast celebrating the memory of theatre icon Krishen Jit was in progress. They had an affable actor named Matt Crosby in tow, and I was told that Adam’s play, “Know No Cure”, was opening mid-May, starring Zahim and Matt. This was to be the world premiere of a play written in 2001, and which has since been further developed and refined, with Adam and Zahim co-directing.

Theatre from the Thinking Heart

Matt Crosby’s professional accomplishments are reassuring: he’s done radio, television, film; he’s acted, directed, scripted, designed and managed; he studied and toured in Japan with Shinjuku Ryozanpaku, a leading contemporary theatre company based in Tokyo that has performed extensively in and out of Japan.

Matt graduated from the Australian National Institute of Dramatic Arts in 1981, and was artistic director of the Actor’s Furniture Group from 1996 to 2000. He has explored a variety of performance techniques: Suzuki, Grotowski, Kristen Linklater, neuro-kinetic expression (whatever that is). In “Know No Cure”, Matt’s character is named Cyber. He represents Faustian man’s industrial-corporate-scientific mindset – the metaphoric terminus of western civilisation.

Cyber is hospitalised while visiting Jaya (a landscape inspired no doubt by our own Jayas) and is to be operated on by Dr Putra – played by Zahim Albakri, one of Malaysia’s most highly acclaimed actors, and an award-winning director many times over (he won BOH Cameronian Arts Awards for direction in 2002 and 2006).

Cyber’s diseased condition is reflected in the unhealthy state of the natural environment. Will Putra cure Cyber – or will he, himself, end up contaminated? The audience is advised that Al Gore will not be making a cameo appearance in this production – “Know No Cure” is beyond politics. This is hybrid theatre from the thinking heart. It focuses on extinction: of ancient wisdom as well as of species – and that includes Homo supposedly-sapiens. It deals with urgent issues we ignore at our own peril.

Artistic Pursuits

Adam reassures me that the chemistry between Matt and Zahim is working out fine.

In the seven years since we first met, Adam Broinowski has grown a Mephistophelean Van Dyke and acquired an enigmatic aura: he appears more confident, more focused, more masterful; there’s a wizardly twinkle in his eyes that tells me he’s on to something mysterious and powerful. His love affair with Japan has given his mind a distinctly Zen edge.

I Google “Adam Broinowski” and am amazed by all the things he’s done: produced a documentary on Japanese subcultures, called “Hell Bento” (aired on multilingual Australian channel SBS in 1995); written a bunch of plays – “The Great Gameshow of Pernicious Influences” (1996) and “Hotel Obsino” (1999); studied Noh and a bit of Butoh at Shizuoka University as a Japan Foundation fellow (which means he speaks fluent Japanese); performed in seven countries, variously as an acrobat, clown, dancer, and multimedia artist; acted in a television series while working on his PhD at the University of Melbourne.

At 36, Adam is several months younger than both my second daughter and second wife; it’s hard not to feel a twinge of vicarious paternal pride, talking to this multi­-talented young man who has dedicated himself totally to all these artistic pursuits. “Tell me a little about ‘Know No Cure’,” I say to Adam, “What elements do you think will entice Malaysian to watch the show?”

“Well, Matt plays a very sick Mat Salleh, Cyber, and Zahim plays a surgeon, Putra, who’s forgotten his own roots. The action is set in the near future, in a fictitious and utterly sterile place called Jaya.”

Sounds like an exquisitely inspired extended metaphor – exactly the sort of theme I’d pick, if asked to write a play. You wouldn’t want to miss out on this exciting artistic collaboration.

First Published: 14.05.2007 on Kakiseni

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