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A Haunting Experience Indeed

Pulau-Antara-2001

Antares at PULAU ANTARA ~ THE ISLAND IN BETWEEN

Five hours after leaving the Citra Istana Budaya auditorium – a grandly named island of culture amidst the woeful disarray of the National Cultural Complex – I am still haunted by PULAU ANTARA ~ THE ISLAND IN BETWEEN.

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Director-playwright Jo Kukathas

“Did you know Kompleks Budaya was undergoing massive reconstruction when you chose this venue?”  I asked co-writer/director Jo Kukathas.  “That’s part of the set.  It wasn’t cheap!”  she quipped.  I guess excavators must cost a fair bit to rent.  The van shuttle between car-park and theater was certainly a novelty: no one expects to cross a muddy construction site to see a play, but that’s precisely the desired effect, the blurring of boundaries between “real life” and theater, between history and mystery, between the living and the dead…

PULAU ANTARA is a disturbing play, populated by characters from different times, different cultures, different worlds.  A collaborative effort involving the Tokyo-based Setagaya Public Theatre and Malaysia’s own Instant Café Theatre, the cross-cultural project was generously funded by The Japan Foundation.

Having witnessed the recent rape and ruin of the Selangor River Valley, the play’s theme – of trampling on the past and denying the present to build an illusory future – struck an immediate chord with me.  A beautiful, mysterious island in the Malacca Straits has been earmarked for development as a cyber-city, simply because it’s located at the mid-point of a colossal suspension bridge linking the Malay Peninsula to Sumatra: another megalomaniac scheme to get Malaysia into the Guinness Book of World Records.

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Gene Sha Rudyn as Datuk Zainal

Would-be world-conquering architect, Datuk Zainal (an old boy of the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar, of course), arrives on Pulau Antara to stake his personal claim to fame and fortune – aided and abetted by an ambitious young Japanese engineer, Ryo Tsushima.  They are soon joined by a female architect, Aida Ariffin, who quickly succumbs to the mysterious allure of the island.  Apart from Marvin Sung, a superstitious Chinese engineer on the bridge project; Mantok Pui, a sagely old man who seems to live between dimensions; and Ryo’s pregnant wife Mayumi – who unexpectedly arrives on Pulau Antara, never again to leave – the rest of the cast consists of ghosts and memories caught in a time warp.

There’s Colonel Okada, who died serving Emperor Hirohito in the 1940s; Englishman George, an affable failure in everything; Ananda the scribe, a relic of the Majapahit Empire; Oichi, a 19th century Japanese prostitute; Daiko, a “curse doll” (who represents all bad memories that won’t go away); Asif, a native lad forever dreaming of adventures on the high seas; the schoolboy Harun (a lost fragment of Zainal’s MCKK memories); a couple of other Sungs (Tze Toh, a eunuch emissary with Admiral Cheng Ho’s fleet and Kit Yeng, a jazz musician killed during the Japanese occupation); and there’s the Penanggal, the resident ghost of Pulau Antara that floats around as only a hideous head with gory entrails, dragging mothers-to-be to untimely deaths.

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The “curse doll”

With such a motley crew of human and phantom characters jabbering away in three languages, the plot tends to become a crazy collage of absolutely brilliant bits mixed in with some murky, elusive moments.  Add to the complexity of the multidimensional drama, the need to “subtitle” the Japanese dialogue with back-projected text (in tiny fonts most unkind to the vision-impaired), and what you get is “ambiguous audience response.”

yinyangtreeMany elements were outstanding: the use of magnified leaf skeletons as large scene-shifting screens, suggesting intricate life-webs, neural circuits, arterial networks, topographical maps (harking back to the universal tree-of-life motif); the adroit lighting by Mac Chan; the intensely evocative music by Saidah Rastam; the elegant audio-visual effects by Bernard Chauly; even the meditative sound of lapping waves that preceded the action.  All these were examples of impressive stagecraft that lent the production a memorable luster.  The multicultural cast was a spirited and talented lot, but the non-linear, trilingual text and episodic scene changes made convincing characterizations well-nigh impossible at times.

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Foo May Lyn as Aida Ariffin

Underpinning this cogent drama of conflict and reconciliation between magical and scientific world-views is a metaphysical commentary that makes PULAU ANTARA a very serious work indeed.  However, the heaviness is offset by a generous sprinkling of barbed witticisms.  For instance, Aida Ariffin wryly reports that some minister thinks the bridge “isn’t Islamic enough.”  And when Zainal claims the island on behalf of his race, he is challenged by the ghosts of many would-be colonists before him – which leads George (impersonating Mr Evans, the British principal of the MCKK) to assign Datuk Zainal a C-minus for history.

PULAU ANTARA is a breathtakingly ambitious cultural bridge between Japan and Malaysia which deserves to be warmly applauded, even if it leaves some theatergoers a bit confused and disoriented.

14 August 2001

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INTESTINAL CONVULSIVE THERAPY

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Andrew Leci & Jo Kukathas: the driving force behind Instant Cafe Theatre

Antares braves the madding crowd at 12SI for some recycled laughs

Afdlin Shauki as your typical Umno member

Afdlin Shauki as your typical Umno member

An Instant Café Theatre performance is not usually something one reviews so much as raves about. No doubt the feisty and indestructible comedy company co-founded and led by Jo Kukathas has had its occasional off-key show and, more than once, has been found guilty of belaboring a point. Nonetheless ICT’s overall contribution to sanity, mental clarity, and public truthfulness in Dr M’s industrially besmogged but “ingat boleh” Malaysia is immeasurable, and must some sunny day be awarded a place of distinction in the Museum of Malaysian Satire (or at least acknowledged with a monumental biography).

ICT’s latest outing at a trendy dance club called Atmosphere (mainstay of the glitzy 12SI entertainment complex) was a mite disappointing to ardent fans but a major revelation to a whole new segment of celebrants hitherto unexposed to their bellyachingly funny, gutsy and therapeutic brand of political satire.

Nell Ng raging at a customer

Nell Ng raging at a customer

Most of the material was recycled from Millennium Jump and Mass Hysteria (ICT shows from the last two years). The classic ‘Umbrella Girls’ skit worked fine with guest star Joanne Kam Po Po (in her maiden spot with ICT) and the XX-tremely nubile Nell Ng – though it lacked the pep and sparkle of the original version (or maybe the comic impact begins to wear off after you’ve seen it four times).

The highly charged sodomy trial presided over by the unimpeachable Judge Mental Singh Gall (brought to uncanny life by a grotesquely bewigged Jo Kukathas) wherein the unfortunate traffic offender, Encik Baldev (played to pathetic perfection by Manesh Nesaratnam), is brought to Malaysian-style justice, resonated to the very core when first performed in 1999. It was still hilarious this time around but perhaps we’ve seen one sodomy trial too many – and they’ve all been equally assinine… oops, I mean asinine.

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Jo Kukathas

as Judge Mental Singh Gall

as Judge Mental Singh Gall

Guest of honor YB, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Breaking Records, was invited on stage to poke fun at the Malaysian electorate for voting the likes of himself into public office. At question time, no memorable ones were asked but YB came well prepared with a few unforgettable answers: “Vhy the public unrest? Ve tell them to rest, rest, rest… uddervise ve arrest. Ho ho, ayam a joker, just like the peeyem!”

This leering, sneering Ubuesque deformity with the YB tag is shapeshifter Kukathas at her ugliest and sharpest. No one else can make being a career politician look so unappealing and vulgar. It’s sheer genius in the service of ultimate mediocrity. “Criticize, criticize…” hisses YB, his reptilian claws poised to strike like a pair of deadly cobras. “Criticize is all dose jealous forriners can do!”

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David Gomes provides the live music

And then she magically transforms into the alluring newsreader Wan Zanzi Wan Zanzibar, feeding song cues to Junji, Shanthini, and Maya for their barbed cabaret snippets, stoutly supported by jazz musician David Gomes on sequenced keyboards.

Patrick Teoh’s bulldoggish condo security guard, Khoo Kam Beng, is another durable character who deserves his own sitcom series. Manesh Nesaratnam plays Bacharan, his young sidekick and disciple who eagerly picks up pointers about whom to taruk (harass the upstart Chinese contractor in his Pajero) and whom to tabik (salute the Tan Sri’s influential mistress). Their tightly crafted skit ranks among the best that has emerged from the ICT repertoire. Contributing writers over the years include Kam Raslan, Na’a and Jit Murad, Andrew Leci, Huzir Sulaiman, Harith Iskandar, Puvan Selvanathan, and Jo Kukathas herself, but a great deal of detail is added by the performers themselves.

Maya Tan in action

Maya Tan in action

ICT has a long track record of spotting and roping in the nation’s top talent. Take Indi Nadarajah and Allan Perera, for instance, who started out providing a bit of musical support and ended up as Loga and Singam with their own Comedy Court productions. Recently, sound technician Reshmonu (who moonlights as a club DJ and up-and-coming rap artist with a hit in the charts) was coaxed on stage to play a funky soul brother from Sentul and perform his thambi gangsta rap alongside Manesh. This proved to be a big hit (especially with the women) and went down very well at Atmosphere. It should also help sell a few more copies of his debut album, MonuMental.

Reshmonu gangsta-rappin' Sentul-style

Reshmonu gangsta-rappin’ Sentul-style

Paula Malai Ali made her KL stage debut as Viola in ICT’s Twelfth Night and later graced their regular revues with her glamor-girl-next-door personality. In this instance she made a special guest appearance as Zelda Gratigano-Smythe, an “outrageously artsy fartsy independent foreign film producer trying to get her art film done in Bolehwood.” In competition with her for Malaysian government subsidies and perks is the tough-talking Hongkong movie mogul, Hieronimax Loo, masterfully portrayed by Patrick Teoh. Needless to say, Bolehwood opts for a Bollywood spectacular featuring a hit song and sensational dance number written and performed by Maya Arissa Abdullah (“Kuch Kuch Twin Towers Very High High Hai”).

Afdlin Shauki as kutu rocker

Afdlin Shauki as kutu rocker

Another priceless gem is Nell Ng’s cheongsam diva from old Shanghai who dreams of ensnaring a titled bumi entrepreneur, driving a Merc, securing a few lucrative contracts, and playing hostess with the mostest at halal banquets. She lipsynchs exquisitely to a hysterical spoof number (“Wang Bo Liau”) co-written and sung by the amazing Maya Abdullah aka Monita Tan.

The presence of Jit Murad and Zahim Albakri would, of course, have made it a gala night – but ICT has a knack of pulling it off no matter who happens to be in the cast. There are times when one is forced to sit back and ponder the dire possibility that Dr M may one day be forced to retire from the political stage. Come that day, ICT may be hard pressed to maintain its mirthful output, much of which is inspired by his monolithic management style and the sycophantic ethos it has spawned. However, that day seems to lie beyond a receding horizon. And, as any pessimist will gladly inform you, there’s always another clown waiting in the wings for a big break. In which case ICT is likely to go on forever.

@ 2001

BUGGERY & SKULDUGGERY

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Oscar Wilde (1854~1900)

Antares is provoked by GROSS INDECENCY

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Moises Kaufman

Moises Kaufman’s multi-perspective courtroom drama, GROSS INDECENCY: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, was pulling in the crowds and winning the Critics’ Choice award for best play of 1998 – even as Malaysians were being titillated or outraged by their very own “Trial of the Century.”

In 1895, Oscar Wilde was found guilty of “gross immorality” and sentenced to two years’ hard labor at Reading Gaol.  A little over a century later, Anwar Ibrahim was accused of sodomy (among other offences), found guilty by patently partisan judges, and sentenced to fifteen years in Sungai Buloh Prison.  Anwar’s claim that there was a high-level conspiracy to topple him was meticulously ignored.

Wilde was a literary peacock and iconoclast; Anwar an orator and politician, but what both men had in common were their high public profiles, their growing influence on youth, and the perceived threat they represented to the Status Quo.  That both were accused of sodomy (“unnatural practices” or “sex against the natural order”) is indeed revealing.  For centuries, abstinence and celibacy in sexual matters had been promoted as godly virtues – but heterosexual sex within the legally, socially, or religiously sanctioned precincts of marriage was accepted (if only in the interest of procreation).

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Rey Buono

And yet snide reports of rampant pederasty within priestly, public school, and even parliamentary circles were hardly uncommon.  Buggery, after all, goes back as far as the Spartan Army and was a fact of Athenian and Roman life.  Socrates himself, while married to Xanthippe, had a passionate affair with an athletic and youthful male disciple named Alcibiades, and every self-respecting Roman senator had his favorite catamite.  And in Victorian England, closet homosexuality had reached near epidemic proportions, so much so that the day after Oscar Wilde was sentenced, more than 600 scions of the upper crust caught the boat to Calais.

Indeed, the nation was plagued by nasty rumors of buggery and skulduggery in high places to the extent that it became necessary to make a public example of Wilde, if only to reassure voters that all was well with the Empire.

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Jit Murad

Kaufman’s cunningly crafted script is a collage of text gleaned from news clippings, private letters, journal entries, original trial transcripts, and personal memoirs.  Bringing the philosophical and political subtext of Wilde’s trials and tribulations to dynamic life through ten actors, all male, and making it work as post-Brechtian theater was indeed a dramaturgical challenge that Kaufman met with aplomb.

The Instant Café Theatre production of GROSS INDECENCY directed by Rey Buono was staged in a nightclub (O*range), which effectively blurred the boundaries between actors and audience while adding a surreal edge to the proceedings.  Buono is to be heartily commended first of all for introducing KL audiences to this bitingly topical play; and for his confident, intelligent directorial hand, especially in working with the multi-tiered space; and lastly but not least for his illuminating program notes.

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Reza Zainal Abidin

The cast was, on the whole, very well chosen, but I was particularly impressed by the tremendous conviction Reza Zainal Abidin brought to his multiple rôles of Charles Parker and the Judge, and especially his queenly cameo of Victoria Regina.  Chacko Vadaketh excelled as Sir Edward Clarke, Wilde’s attorney (and little wonder, as Vadaketh was formerly a practicing lawyer from a prominent legal family).

As the rough-and-ready Marquess of Queensbury and a couple of other characters, Patrick Teoh turned in a powerful performance with a highly charged dynamic between him and his rebellious son Lord Alfred Douglas, elegantly portrayed by Chowee Leow.  To say that Edwin R. Sumun, Rashid Salleh, Shamser, Ghafir Akbar, and Kurt Crocker (as the academic pseudo, Martin Taylor) did justice to their rôles may be saying too little, but each certainly deserved an individual round of applause.

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Patrick Teoh

Which leads us to the casting of Jit Murad as Oscar Wilde.  I must admit I am still undecided about this pivotal element of Buono’s directorial vision.  Murad, a fabulous and much admired actor and playwright, was to many the obvious choice for Oscar.  After all, they appear to have much in common: both are known for their insouciant charm, irrepressible wit, and effervescent intelligence.  Indeed, there are some who regard Jit Murad as a Malaysian Oscar Wilde.  Perhaps it was the very obviousness of this casting option which, in the end, gave rise to a certain incongruity that subtly undermined the dramatic impact and intellectual gravity of the production.  Murad is such a distinctive personality in his own right that what transpired on stage was ‘The Three Trials of Jit Murad’ – not Oscar Wilde.

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Chacko Vadaketh

The aesthetic ethos embodied in the life and work of Oscar Wilde raised very important questions about art versus politics; private versus public mores; individual liberty versus the conformative forces of a hypocritical society.  To a large extent, Buono succeeded in spellbinding the KL audience with a courtroom spectacle that was in no part dull or slow-moving – indeed it was rather like déjà vu to anyone who has been following the farcical trials of Anwar Ibrahim.  In this instance, Murad’s eternally youthful good looks (and his exaggeratedly camp mannerisms) made his Wilde a bit too much of a flippant fop to be taken seriously as an aesthetic revolutionary or intellectual beacon.  The lightness of his physical being gave the lie to the weightiness of the philosophical cross Wilde had to bear.  I can’t help thinking that Murad would have been absolutely perfect cast as “Bosie” (Lord Alfred Douglas).

I emerged into the incandescent glow of the giant corncobs known as the Petronas Twin Towers, glad to have been part of this significant moment in local theater – when it appeared that the discreet but influential gay community of Kuala Lumpur had at last come together and declared their defiance of the fatwa against homosexuality implied in the vicious persecution of the erstwhile deputy prime minister for alleged acts of “gross indecency.”

And yet, will this event lead to the early release of Anwar Ibrahim and the dawn of a new, more enlightened, more compassionate era in Malaysian public life?  Or is all art quite useless, as Wilde himself incisively averred?

2 October 2001

YOU DID SWELL, NELL!

Antares has a rollicking time with HARDY BOYZ N CRAZY GIRLZ

Nell Ng: brains, beauty & talent

I was introduced to Nell Ng’s family outside The Actors Studio Box.  Her brother Joey is reportedly a talented designer (in fact, he did the funky program) and her mum looks really feisty.  There goes my pet theory that Nell Ng was beamed down from the same planet where Mork originates (remember “Nanoo Nanoo”?)

In any case, Nell Ng is undoubtedly endowed with high-voltage brains as well as a voluptuous beauty she enjoys spoofing in most of her skits with the Instant Café Theatre.  For her directorial debut with TASYDS (The Actors Studio Young Directors Showcase, to the uninitiated), Ms Ng assiduously picked a series of off-beat one-acters by Christopher Durang, Laura Cunningham, Cathy Celesia, and that brilliant fellow, Antares (thereby ensuring her maiden effort an agreeable review, at least on kakiseni.com).  And she even wrote one herself: a takeoff on a takeoff of Romeo and Juliet, which went down very well indeed.

The modern-day theatergoer apparently prefers comedy to tragedy, possibly because there’s already enough of that in their own lives.  On opening night The Box was full of bums (half of mine was dangling precariously over the edge for the first two items, until I managed to sandwich myself safely between two women on a lower tier).  No doubt Hardy Boyz N Crazy Girlz will be packed out throughout its run.  Keeping the crowd entertained and making them laugh is a fine art which Nell Ng has got down pat.  A regular stint with the Instant Café Theatre is perhaps the best way to hone one’s comedic skills, and Nell has appeared in a lot of ICT revues over the last couple of years.

Maya Arissa Abdullah:
absolutely awesome

ICT has also been an excellent training ground for Maya Arissa Abdullah, whose phenomenal talent as an actress has blossomed with amazing swiftness since her debut appearance with the comedy troupe three years ago.  She maintained perfect focus in each of her four rôles, and was absolutely awesome (and marvellously feline) in Christopher Durang’s gothic study of domestic psychosis, Naomi in the Living Room.  Eddy Mudzaffar and Carina Ong acquitted themselves favorably as her hapless son, John, and his wife, Joanna. They looked terrific as Mr and Mrs Road Runner, though they never once went “Beep-Beep!”

In Anything For You, Cathy Celesia’s simple but well-crafted dialogue between two women who have been best friends for years, Maya’s totally credible Gaik Sim was superbly matched by Farah Alia’s earthy and subtle Kalsom.  The two of them were a class act, offsetting the unsubtle antics of a slapstick waiter played by Hadi (who even reminded me a little of Jerry Lewis).

Farah Alia: a class act

The breezy ‘Radio Gila’ intro (pre-recorded by Ghafir Akbar and Nell Ng) set the manic tone of the production, though it took a while for Eddy and Hadi to get over their initial self-consciousness in Christopher Durang’s The Hardy Boys & The Mystery of Where Babies Come From.  Zuraida Zainal Abidin made excellent use of her ample physical assets and evidently enjoyed herself as the nymphomanic Nurse Ratched; but she truly came into her own as Julita in Nell Ng’s endearing Romli & Julita.

Dicky Cheah: utterly suave

When Nell made known her decision to include Lomeo & Juriet – my Manglish “terangslation” of that famous balcony scene from Shakespeare, first dramatized by Tim Evans in Shakespeare for Dummies, with Nell playing Juriet opposite Chris Ng as Lomeo – I was looking forward to finally seeing the piece brought to life on stage.  Suffice to say, I wasn’t disappointed.  Indeed, I was delighted with the inspired dramaturgic touches she had added (for instance, the took-took-chang effects borrowed from Chinese opera). Carina Ong was exquisitely demure as Juriet Chan and Dicky Cheah utterly suave as Lomeo Ng.

I’ve seen Dicky in countless productions over the decades, usually in bit parts, and of late his acting skills have taken on a patina of professionalism hitherto unobserved.  A late bloomer, that Dicky, but a talent well worth the wait to see unfold. He was especially funny in Laura Cunningham’s hysterical Flop Cop – which had Hadi as an out-of-control playwright desperate to inflict his Deadly Dick monologue on an unsuspecting public.  As a highly trained officer of the KLAP (Kuala Lumpur Arts Police), Dicky finally realizes he can’t kill the playwright unless he first kills his characters.  I thoroughly relished this bit of inspired madness, which was enlivened by a brilliant West Side Story meets X-Files soundtrack.

The balcony scene in Manglish

Nell conceived Romli & Julita as a companion piece to Lomeo & Juriet – a savvy move, as it got maximum mileage out of the laughs generated by the Manglish version.  It also reinforced the interethnic goodwill personified by Gaik Sim and Kalsom she had injected in the earlier one-acter by Cathy Celesia.  I couldn’t resist comparing her work with that of everybody’s favorite Latok – Malaysia’s cartoonist laureate, Mohd. Nor Khalid aka Lat.

Megat Sharizal’s guitar-toting Romli was a very good match for Zuraida’s cheese-sandwich-junkie Julita.  Heaven knows we need more bridges, not more walls.  And I guess Malaysians prefer laughter, not tears. Hey, swell job, Nell!

21 June 2002

Years of Laughing Dangerously

Tudong Farewell with members of the Instant Cafe Theatre

Antares reviews Millennium Jump: Yet Another Millennium Approaches

The program cover says it all: down in the highrise condo parking lot, nine patriots have made a deep impression on the bitumen.  As law-abiding, non-rioting Malaysians, they have scrupulously avoided landing in a space marked “Kosongkan”‘ (‘Leave Empty’).  On the roof edge from which they presumably performed their death-denying Millennium Jump, we see a pair of reading glasses, a watch, a rubber slipper, a cellular phone, and the day’s edition of Boleh! (the “”semua boleh” paper) sporting the headline: “WIN RM1 MILLION!  U-Chump Sdn Bhd offers once-in-a-lifetime prize to first 100 Malaysians who jump off Pangsapuri De’Sin!”

Absurd?  That’s life in Dr Mahathir’s Malaysia for you!  Although the newspaper reading taxpayer may not be aware of this until he or she has had the opportunity to attend an Instant Café Theatre performance.  The fact that ICT’s pungent political satire has been tolerated for the past 11 years indicates that the company has attained the status of National Court Jester Laureate and, as such, enjoys comedic licence to lampoon everything and everyone in sight – even Samy Vellu and his legendary acts of “Lunasy.”

The doctor may not agree, but laughter is indeed the best medicine.  Maybe it won’t cure our social and political ills, but even the most repressed society needs to let off a little steam; and the growing success of the Instant Café Theatre can be held up as proof that democracy thrives in Malaysia, whether guided or misguided.  In any event, ICT certainly boleh.  Although getting on national TV still tak boleh. When unintelligence and mediocrity get you down, who do you call?  Instant Café Theatre!  When you feel there’s little prospect for genuine talent in this country and you begin to entertain thoughts of migrating, what do you do?  Go see ICT!

It’s remarkable how invigorating it is to watch all your frustrations ventilated right on stage by this remarkable and intrepid troupe of lovable jesters led by the Chaplinesque Jo Kukathas. The line between reality and satire gets extremely blurred at an ICT performance.  Malaysians can endure ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy or Electorate Control Technology) but can they handle ICT?

Those experiencing ICT for the very first time are understandably nervous about laughing too loud, for fear that the person sitting behind them may be a secret policeman on overtime. My problem, during the first half, was the free teh tarik we were offered before the show.  Its diuretic effect caused me to suppress my mirth for fear of bursting my plumbing.  In fact, after a while it actually hurt when I laughed.  And the laughs came thick and fast with the Bolehwood Golden Dugong Awards and the Ramadhan Rap and Only Money Matters (in which two deputy ministers, YB and Oy, played to pee-squirting perfection by Zahim Albakri and Jo Kukathas – are interviewed about party infighting). It was absolutely excruciating.  Good thing the unforgettable Umbrella Girls skit by Nell Ng and Chae Lian came after the intermission (don’t linger too long in the loo or you’ll miss the festive “Raya Carollers” in the foyer).

Nell Ng, Patrick Teoh & Chae Lian in “Umbrella Girls”

Rashid Salleh, a refreshing new face in the ICT lineup, delivered a definitive non-performance (as the Defence Minister’s nephew) guarding the armory in the divinely inspired Al-Ma’unah spoof. Patrick Teoh and Edwin R. Sumun were enlightening as Yoda and Luke in Election Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Voter. 

The immensely watchable Maya Arissa Abdullah, the very versatile Junji Gomes, and the wonderfully golden-voiced Shanthini Venugopal made up the rest of the superb cast in this production.  Lipraxedes Jumawan (better known as Dodong) performed his amazing “soundtrack” magic on keyboards. If national service were made mandatory in Malaysia, I would opt for a two-year stint with ICT rather than a couple of years under the ISA.

What’s the difference between a political satirist and a prisoner of conscience?  Their goals are essentially the same: to resensitize us to the malaise of our everyday milieu and prick our social conscience.  However, one does it through laughter while the other does it through tears. If you’re one of those unfortunates who has NEVER witnessed an ICT revue, I urge you to catch this jump before the millennium rolls over and dies.

I’m generally wary of using mobile phones, but so impressed was I with DiGi’s decision to sponsor Millennium Jump I found myself thinking: if ever I decide to communicate dangerously – and one has little choice really, in view of the dismal state of public phones – I’d pick their product as a show of support for corporations that support the arts without fear or favor.  What a privilege it is to be associated with the Instant Café Theatre Company!

Epilogue: On opening night there was a baldie in the 4th row who never laughed once.  Perhaps a wigless Samy Vellu had smuggled himself into the K. R. Soma Auditorium. The next day, some MIC flunkey actually cancelled the show.  Good ol’ Samy, he’s a regular showstopper.  But somehow the show goes on… at least till December 22nd.

9 December 2000

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