Antares agonizes over Mark Beau de Silva’s spectacular put-off
I seriously considered keeping mum about my strange reaction to this gaudy and raucous musical comedy put up by a bunch of youngsters who call themselves De Silva and The Theatre People. A member of the cast had taken pains to ensure that I came to review The Dream’s Nightmare. Sometimes you just don’t want to dampen eager young spirits.
The night before, I had sacrificed Soefira Jaafar’s Twelfth Night (which I badly wanted to see because I find all the different ways of doing Shakespeare interesting) to catch the last Acoustic Jam at the Commonwealth Club – a monthly showcase of young songwriters and cutting-edge bands – and was greatly energized by the promising new talent exploding in the alternative music scene. I was looking forward to getting more reassurance that fantastic things were happening in the arts despite the deadly stench of decay and deceit that we have grown accustomed to living with.
This is perhaps the second time I’ve actually walked out of a theater midway through a performance. It’s definitely the first time I’m reviewing a production I didn’t even finish watching. Why? What WAS it that made me physically unable to bear another minute of The Dream’s Nightmare? I just wanted out of there pronto!
Were the actors all that bad? On the contrary, they all seemed to have heaps of potential, everyone was enthusiastic and unstinting in performance. Some were even good. And the costumes and lighting worked just fine. But they deserved a more serviceable vehicle for their boundless energy and talent.
Was it the singing and dancing then? Nope, that wasn’t particularly original or inspired, but it’s not easy to write a hit musical and I’m usually pretty tolerant of sincere efforts. Okay, there were more than a few moments that grated on the ear. I found the opening narration way too loud and invasive. But these are minor technical faults.
How about the central concept? Was there something “not quite right” about it?
Writer-director-composer-lyricist-actor (and costume designer) Mark Beau de Silva says it’s about the trials and tribulations of Hallucia, a pubescent dream living among terrifying nightmares in Nightmare Town. Hey, that sounds promising enough! Anyway, it was sort of like a student production – or at least it had the unmistakable feel of a class project put together by a few energetic and talented kids from a private college.
I’m not normally a nasty fellow and I don’t intend to be, so I hope no one involved in the production will take what I have to say too personally. I present my views as honest feedback, no offence intended. It’s all very well for a reviewer to walk out of a performance, but I feel accountable for my subjective reaction to the event and must somehow articulate why I couldn’t stand being in the theater after a mere 30 minutes. I felt anguished and pained. What’s going on? Surely it couldn’t be due to insufficient sleep? My lovely companion had had a good night’s rest. She, too, expressed relief at not having to sit through the entire Nightmare.
Outside the Actors Studio Theater at Dataran Merdeka, the still air was superheated. I felt the Sun microwave us as we walked across the scorching streets. For an instant I thought we might have leapt from a frying pan into the proverbial fire. But the thought of returning to the Nightmare propelled us post-haste through the steel and concrete inferno of KL.
“What do you think was ‘wrong’ with the show?” I asked her afterwards as we sipped cold drinks in a Thai restaurant. She knitted her noble brow and thought about it for a few moments. “Ummm… it somehow wasn’t in sync with anything.”
Now that’s a spot-on description, though somewhat vague. Let me attempt to elucidate this. The storyline was a rich lode of dramatic possibilities and allowed for wacky characters like Acnecia, Frieda Fright, Putrida, Mrs Miss, Uglina, Venom, Vile, Bed and Bugs. Sort of like Alice in Wonderland from the Addams Family meets the Wizard of Oz and the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the Little Shop of Horrors. So it was a playful pastiche, a loose plot slapped together around a cluster of forgettable songs and a very thin and puerile script. That sort of thing can be lots of good wholesome fun. Why didn’t this one take off?
Well, Mark Beau, I think you’re a phenomenally ambitious, gifted, and dynamic young man who has a great future in showbiz. But first you’ll have to make up for the education you never received in this glorious land of Mickey Mouse Institutes set up to groom young people for an illustrious career in advertising, marketing and PR. The fatuous script seemed to have been churned out by a novice copywriter to meet a brief for “inoffensive light entertainment with wide appeal.” It wasn’t something from deep within that you simply had to express. It was essentially an airing of your diverse and precocious talents – but without a legitimate core to its existence. It wasn’t a story with a living soul to call its own. There was no ring of truth to the endeavor. How does something like this happen? It can only happen in a culture afraid to be original, truthful, honest and real – for fear of being punished, for fear of being deemed unmarketable because the authorities might decide to ban it and then no corporate sponsors would touch it.
Imagine a world where songwriters produce nothing but jingles for jeans, 4X4s and soft drinks; where graphic designers do nothing but bargain posters and furniture catalogs; and where musicals are commissioned by corporate entities to celebrate their own prestige. That would definitely qualify as a cultural hell. Where artists believe in the bottom line and art has become nothing more than just another attractively packaged consumer product. No soul but lots of noisy style.
Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan, meet the amateur production from Hell! A lot of proud mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles (and perhaps a busload of loyal friends) will find my assessment of The Dream’s Nightmare unfair and unkind. I’d be interested to hear if anyone actually agrees with me. The house was more than half full and quite a few appeared to be enjoying the antics on stage. That’s the most worrying part, I think.
[This review appeared in kakiseni.com on 20 March 2002. Below are some comments left by readers which I feel deserve to be included herein…]
Thanks Wed, Mar 20 2002 10:27:46
Thank you Antares for your constructive comments. I will surely think of purity and honesty for the next production (please don’t cringe, yes there will be a next production). My first attempt was merely to entertain. I’m sincerely sorry you weren’t, Antares. I actually thought your review would be good… considering that your past reviews were all good ones. I guess my stuff was that bad huh? but thanks lah, your comments have given me more ‘semangat’ to put up a better one the next time. Take care man….oh and yes…for those who came for the show, i want to hear your comments…thanx
posted by Mark Beau firstname.lastname@example.org
You’re a Marked Man! 🙂 Wed, Mar 20 2002 14:19:20
Hey, Mark! I am so glad to see you respond personally to my nightmarish review. I have friends who didn’t speak to me for 7 years because I ‘savaged’ their pet production. And they weren’t 22 year olds either! I’m awed by your semangat – your spunk. There isn’t any doubt in my mind that you are a living dynamo of ideas. But if you own a Ferrari, it helps if you also know how to drive (and approximately where you want to go!)
I was a guest lecturer at a private college for a while and very much enjoyed interacting with young minds. However, I was intrigued by the fact that many 20-yr-olds were submitting essays indicating a mental maturity of 14 or 15 (I only have a few reference points, including my own experience, as a yardstick, so I’d better qualify what I mean by “immature.”) Well, these were mostly very bright and self-confident kids from middle-class homes with yuppie parents. One thing they had in common was growing up watching TV and eating at McDonald’s and KFC. Yup, they were the Yuppie Consumer Generation – a generation ‘educated’ by glitzy ads on TV and brain-deadened by the Ministry of Education’s industrial robotization program. For the most part they didn’t have a clue about things that really mattered and couldn’t be bothered what was going on in the country or in the world. Fortunately there are always a handful who actually do and they were a great inspiration to me.
If anything, my critique was leveled at the sort of vacuous commercialism, corporate piratism, and middle-class ‘kiasuness’ nincompoop notions like Wawasan 2020 have spawned. This grotesque rise of the Lowest Common Denominator to almost absolute dominance has also hastened the demise of basic decency and the love of truth. Knowledge is deemed useless unless it can be converted to quick cash. In short, we have become a very crass and crude society – ruled by blind greed and constant fear of punishment. Recently, a 16-yr-old found herself in trouble with her parents because school prefects had searched her bag and found a condom. I ask you: which is the greater horror, the fact that an intelligent adolescent is cautiously exploring the vast minefield of sexuality – or that some students have been granted secret police powers to conduct search and arrest operations at school? Sounds like we’re living in an Orwellian nightmare and don’t even know it!
Mark Beau, I’m sure you will rise above this materially comfortable but aesthetically and ethically barren milieu and make something truly worthwhile of your many gifts. My very best wishes to you on your journey of self-discovery!
posted by Antares Antares@time.net.my
kakiseni doesn’t censor anymore Wed, Mar 20 2002 15:43:43
Just a quick note from the editor here to say that sexual words written in this comments section are no longer censored and replaced by @!#$???.
posted by Jenny Daneels email@example.com
Hallucia made my Evening Though Thu, Mar 21 2002 11:50:10
After watching 12th Nite, which I believe was a debut to most of the young cast of the play on the first nite of its showing, I was so absolutely entertained, was so very proud of their performance. The way the whole play in its entire simplicity took my breath away. I guess I expected a little too much when I insisted on getting the tickets (which was not sold at Actors Studio but independently) I believed that “Dreams Nitemare” would be something else, somewhat along the same line of ’12th Nite” but I was totally disappointed. Anyway, I must congratulate ‘Hallucia’ for her exceptional singing/acting talent which I stayed on for, if not I would have walked out too, Antares (-;
Well, I guess we all learn from our experiences and I just hope that Mark and his team mates, would not stop here or let “Dreams Nitemare” be a discouragement but rather a stepping stone to better performances.
Keep it going!!
posted by Nesam Pillay firstname.lastname@example.org
:~( Thu, Mar 21 2002 15:24:11
Antares’ reply here really really hit home. I hope more people are reading the small prints on this page.
posted by V email@example.com