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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

Marvelous Marathon of Mirth

Harith Iskandar & Afdlin Shauki: fat funny fellows

Antares splits his sides (and meets old friends) at ACTORLYMPICS 

Oh, it’s good to spend a Sunday afternoon guffawing non-stop (though 150 minutes did seem a bit excessive towards the end). With a suave Patrick Teoh playing emcee or umpire, Afdlin Shauki, Harith Iskandar, Jit Murad, Jo Kukathas, Nell Ng, and Zahim Albakri treated KL audiences to another rousing round of theater sports (where everything is improvised).

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Nell Ng & Afdlin Shauki in action

They were absolutely brilliant, and you’d have to be a dullard to disagree. Bringing a whole new meaning to “thinking on your feet,” they winged it at high altitude, skydiving over Bangsar and taking the mickey out of the mouse. They performed on raw instinct, propelled by pure talent, driven by sheer wit. They had the audience completely enthralled and eating out of their hands. It’s tempting to try and recapture some of the highlights in a review, but you really had to be there to appreciate the inspired inanity of the performances.

(Okay, just to give you a taste of the hysterical goings-on: one event had the cast divided into two teams. Random props chosen by the backstage crew were handed to each team and they had to improvise short scenes using these props. A red plastic stool is offered to one team. Within 3 seconds, they’re improvising a scene at a clinic with the doctor saying: “Good! I see you’ve brought a stool sample!” That sort of thing. Virtually impossible to translate into mere words…)

Ladies and gentlemen, here are a few mutant Malaysians equipped with high-speed data-processing circuits, oodles of charisma and, most importantly, a healthy sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves. I’d entrust the entire country to their moisturized and slippery hands. Indeed, I’m proud to have witnessed their ascension to world-class comedy status.

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Afdlin Shauki

Afdlin Shauki first caught the public eye around 1990 when he starred in a self-penned production directed by Joe Hasham. It was evident even then that he was some sort of prodigy in the mode of John Belushi. He had enough promise as a singer to get signed up by Roslan Aziz along with Zainal Abidin and Amir Yussof. He honed his comedic skills in a series of Instant Café Theatre revues and was a great success in Huzir Sulaiman’s hit musical, Hip-Hopera. Recently he was seen as one of Mongkut’s courtiers in the movie, Anna and The King. For a while he toured with his R&B group, Acidiz, and recorded on his own label, Acid Rain, in between acting and directing engagements. Afdlin is a bona fide Malaysian showbiz success story and has never been known to make a foolish move [at least not until the year 2012, when he decided, much to my distress, to join a racist rightwing political party].

I remember Harith Iskandar’s early ventures into stand-up comedy at All That Jazz when he’d go on stage and try out his routine between sets by Rafique Rashid. It was obvious the man had the wherewithal to make it big in comedy. Later he tried his hand at filmmaking and directed Ella and Hans Isaac in a Malay feature called Hanya Kawan. As to be expected, Harith was cast as a neanderthal warrior in Anna and The King. He’s physically big but mentally agile and his comedic body language and timing are spot on.

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The one & only Jit Murad

There was a lady in the audience who told me it was her second time at the show, and she’d brought her family along. “I came to see Jit Murad,” she sighed, “I just love Jit!” I bet she wasn’t the only one who’s enamored of Jit’s inimitable charm and wit. I met Jit Murad back in the mid-1980s when he made his KL stage debut in Thor Kah Hoong’s seminal stage sitcom, Caught In The Middle. A couple of years later he played my son in Maureen Ten’s whimsical For The Time Being. Zahim Albakri was making his KL stage debut, too, as an angel assisting my transition from the physical world. Soon, Jit and Zahim were regularly seen on TV in a whole slew of Malay dramas.

Not surprising, as there was always a gaggle of giggly schoolgirls waiting outside the dressing room for Jit and Zahim at the end of each performance. No one had the heart to tell these girls they didn’t stand a chance in heaven of dating these pretty lads. When the Instant Café Theatre was inaugurated in 1989, Jit and Zahim were among the founder members, along with Jo Kukathas and Andrew Leci. Jit has since made a name for himself as a playwright, while Zahim branched out into directing with great success.

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Jo Kukathas

Ms Kukathas’s illustrious theater career warrants a 5,000-word article. She was an English teacher when I first met her through one of her colleagues. The next thing I knew, she was appearing in Caught In The Middle which is how she connected with Jit and Zahim. The enduring success of the Instant Café Theatre is largely due to Ms Kukathas’s superhuman drive and tenacity.

A few days before Actorlympics opened, she was hospitalized with bronchitis. I suppose that was when Zahim was roped in, just in case, but Jo Kukathas is such a trooper, she simply had to see it through. No one would have guessed she wasn’t in top physical form throughout the strenuous proceedings. That’s what I call dedication, though some might deem it a form of divine madness.

Nell Ng was playing bit parts only a few years ago, but her intensity and focus were clearly evident. And so were her consummate skills as a comedienne. She soon became a regular member of the Instant Café Theatre and confidently held her own among the veterans. For a while she worked the graveyard shift at a radio station as a deejay until she was offered a juicy rôle in a Singapore TV sitcom series. Baby star Nell Ng will be making her directorial debut in a series of skits produced by Faridah Merican and performed by a group of acting students.

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Patrick Teoh

Patrick Teoh I’ve known for over a quarter century when he was a producer with Rediffusion. Back then I kept urging him to get involved in theater and he’d shrug and say, “Don’t have the nerve, lah!” These days you can’t keep the man off the boards and a good thing too – he’s an absolute gem on stage, as well as on the screen!

These amazing talents deserve their own TV station, film company,  recording studio, theater, and unlimited funding… or, at least, no more reactionary bureaucratic impediments. We’d soon be exporting the best that Malaysia has to offer in the way of cultural artifacts. This is no laughing matter. The Beatles were awarded Orders of the British Empire (OBEs) for boosting the British economy during the 1960s. The fact that the Fab Four said, “Thanks, but no thanks!” and promptly returned their medals to the Queen is quite beside the point.

30 April 2002

Theater of the Miraculous

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The utterly astonishing Jo Kukathas

The standing ovation Jo Kukathas received on opening night was well and truly deserved.  Theater – like human existence itself – can be a long, painful struggle punctuated and occasionally redeemed by epiphanies, peak experiences, profound revelations.

Kuali Works’ production of From Table Mountain To Teluk lntan was all of these and more. If only I could convey, without appearing to gush, the exultation, the tears, the laughter, the triumph, the palpable sense of awe and gratitude at having been present at one of those all-too-rare moments when the magic of theater attains to the miraculous.  If only I could find the words to express the poignancy of bearing witness to a nightmare ended and a dream fulfilled. Whose dream?  What nightmare?

Shahimah (Charmaine) Idris is a Cape Malay who left South Africa in 1981 to seek a less bigoted reality in Australia. There she met and married Malaysian artist Raja Azhar and birthed two lovely children, Norazam and Nadiah. The family moved to Malaysia and opened an art gallery. In 1997 – that ominous year when the Asian tigers lost their roar and we choked and gasped and saw no sky for months on end – a tragic “accident” befell Shahimah in an underground carpark: her spinal cord was badly injured in a knife attack which left her paralyzed from the waist down. Her attacker was never caught, but he was believed to be a bouncer in a nightclub who had once flashed her and been given a public tongue lashing by this fiery, pint-sized “victim.”

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The courageous Shahimah (right) seen here with a friend

It was a brutal act of vengeance motivated by thwarted lust which shattered her life like a tornado from hell. For Shahimah the long, painful struggle to regain physical, psychological and emotional wholeness – fighting off despair, frustration, and the very real fear that she would (as the doctors opined) never walk again, was a private ordeal that could only be ended and transcended by her going public with it.

Shahimah Idris decided to write a critical log of her life’s voyage, hoping to make sense of everything that had happened to her since she arrived on this fascinating but hostile planet. In February 1999, actor-playwright-director Ann Lee began collaborating on a playscript with Shahimah. Along with three others, Lee and Shahimah were founding partners of Kuali Works – an all-women arts company involved in theater, television, publications, seminars and workshops.

Sue Ingleton, intuitive director

Things began falling into place. Jo Kukathas agreed to play Shahimah (called Alia in the story) even before she read the first draft. Australian actor-writer-director Sue Ingleton, who had previously performed and conducted workshops in Kuala Lumpur, was invited to direct. Dynamic arts administrator Kathy Rowland was called in to produce. Five powerful women working together is certainly a cosmic force to be reckoned with.

I’ve always known that theater, like all the arts, has its roots in shamanism. But the glory-seeking human ego often hijacks the process. In this instance, as Jo Kukathas revealed, there was no egotism, nor were there primadonna displays.  Instead, there was a deep spiritual bonding amongst the collaborators that generated a tangible field of love, intelligence and creative wisdom.  From Table Mountain To Teluk Intan was undoubtedly a labor of love. Art from the heart, sacred stuff.

Sue Ingleton’s intuitive and judicious directorial input included creating a dramatic soundscape (with the help of ace audio engineer Wong Pek Fui) to complement the beautiful and brilliant simplicity of Carolyn Lau’s versatile set. (An arty video clip was projected at one point in the narrative but it was too fragmented to register except subliminally.)

ImageIllustrious lighting designer Mac Chan outdid himself on this production. We were illuminated by the sheer effectiveness and precision of Chan’s gobsmacking MRI (Magnetic Radiation Imaging) sequence which, for a minute, beamed the audience into a Star Trek reality… and then teleported us to Teluk Intan, to yet another manifestation of racial bigotry, prejudice and “tempurungism” Shahimah believed she’d left behind in South Africa.

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A personal & artistic triumph 

The reality within Reality that’s revealed only when disbelief is suspended: such synchronistic moments in theater can never be forgotten.  At one point a woman sitting in the front row (who occasionally obscured my view with her triangular hairdo) stood up unsteadily and reached for her crutches. Something went CLICK! in my brain. I was aware of a reality shift: the drama I was witnessing on stage was born of a trauma a real person had suffered and survived – more than survived, obviously. The real-life Alia aka Shahimah appeared a little overcome (and rightly so) watching Jo Kukathas re-enact her life – Capetown accent and all – while channeling a vivid cast of characters drawn from the playwright’s memory.  I had come to see the play without the slightest inkling of what it was about.  Realizing it was all about that feisty looking woman with the kooky hairdo was truly a powerful, profound revelation. It was very… dramatic.

Drama, trauma, Traum (which in German means dream): James Joyce called history a nightmare from which he was trying to awake. Theater began with mystery plays enacted by Eleusinian initiates for public cartharsis and healing (making whole). Entertainment was only the sugar-coating on the pill of social therapy. What are our lives if not a bunch of stories? And what are stories if not a record of our explorations in spacetime, a document of our quest for meaning and purpose and a sense of belonging? Shahimah Idris’s honesty of voice and resilience of spirit can only awaken us to our own.

Ann Lee collaborated
on the script

I have seen Jo Kukathas progress from strength to strength with each new challenge. But her artistic contact with director Sue Ingleton seems to have propelled her beyond technical mastery into a dramaturgical form of trance channeling. I couldn’t resist thinking that the amazing Jo Kukathas was serving as some sort of holographic portal for entities trapped in the collective unconscious. Her total surrender to the mediumistic task secures their release from time’s prison and therefore Alia/Shahimah’s too. Her agile, witty tongue and acrobatic physical movements in telling Alia’s story starkly underscored the helplessness and humiliation the wheelchair-bound and bed-ridden must feel. Ms Kukathas’s victorious performance was a monumental inspiration to all who have ever felt defeated by life.

For me, From Table Mountain To Teluk Intan peremptorily dismissed any niggling doubts I may have entertained about the therapeutic value of theater. Go see the play! If I had stars to hand out I’d give this one lots more than five.

October 2000

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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