by Mayo Martin
For Art's Sake, TODAY
Joel Tan is one lucky guy. Mentored by one of the best wordsmiths in town in Huzir Sulaiman, having his first-ever play shaped by one of the sharpest directors in Glen Goei and seeing it brought to life onstage by a cast led by Lim Kay Siu and Karen Tan – at a very important festival at that.
And he didn’t let them down. Family Outing is an impressive debut.
A freak accident involving a household appliance spoils, to put it mildly, a young man’s plan to formally out himself to his devout Christian family. His soul hovers over everyone as, on his first death anniversary, there’s a knock on the door. His “friend” decides to introduce himself to the family. The fun begins.
(Hmmm, interesting parallelisms to Nadirah at the black box venue upstairs, which dealt with firm believers of Islam, had more or less the same dining/living room set-up, brought up football-as-metaphor, Cat Stevens, and yes, the “friend” thing. Here, you had tennis.)
Family Outing is by no means a masterpiece, but what it does it does well. It never overreaches – even when it experiments with flashbacks and tries its had at going slightly “meta” – in handling its themes. Homosexuality and Christianity are uneasy bedmates. You’d think making them headbutt in a single play would turn this into a bloody gladiatorial spectacle. (Woohoo! Mixed metaphors alert!)
Instead, Tan goes the way of dramedy, extremely funny and deeply moving.
Tan’s rookie gig reveals a playwright who’s as witty as they come. Joseph relates how his new life began with a click and a spark, a sharp pause before wryly adding: “the same way it ended.”
And there’s a lot more of these snappy asides and quips that give the play its crackling energy.
But more importantly, here’s someone who can craft characters that pop out as all-too-human with their frailties and quirks, as exemplified the two stand-out performances of the show.
Witness the in-denial mother (one of Tan’s best supporting role performances I’ve seen) who grapples with the shocking news by ironing clothes. Or the silent, gruff and hilariously tactless father (ditto Lim) interrogating boyfriend Daniel.
“Was Joseph good in bed?”
(Young actor Johannes Hadi, who plays younger brother Brandon, is also someone to look out for. His overly intense performance in Young & W!ld’s recent staging of Swordfish + Concubine seemed out of place but he’s right at home here.)
In Family Outing, Tan has written a heartfelt and solid little play that serves as his very own coming out party in the world of local theatre.
And in a scene that’s in short supply of new blood, that’s very good news indeed.
(It’s on until Sunday. Details here.)
by Mayo Martin
For Art's Sake, TODAY
“Mommy has a new friend.” Ack!
Think about it. Your mother tells you she’s dating someone. Nevermind that she’s divorced, you’re already 20 and have got very little attachment to your estranged father. You’re Muslim. Your mom is, too. But the boyfriend’s Christian. Tension galore!
I’m glad I finally caught this award-winning Teater Ekamatra piece. When I told a friend I liked Pariah – the second Yasmin Ahmad “tribute” play by Alfian Sa’at – he said Nadirah was (much? even?) better.
It does seem more cohesive. Granted it was a restaging with the same cast and director (Zizi Azah Abdul Majid), but it does feel more comfortable in its own skin and less rough around the edges. Less heavy-handed perhaps and more subtle in pursuing its topical agenda (which is not to say in-your-face and OTT isn’t effective), in its deft handling of religious issues, Nadirah’s heart shines through clearly.
The titular character (whose name references the Muslim name of Maria Hertogh, the Dutch child at the centre of the racial riots of 1950) finds out her mother and a Christian man plan a civil wedding. Nadirah’s fellow Malay Muslim friends, a liberal woman and a conservative guy, act as sounding board as she grapples with the situation.
Unlike Cooling Off Day, which some might say was more of an exercise in reportage, we’re in full view of Alfian’s writing flair, in particular, his knack for the some of the funniest lines you don’t get until, like, two seconds later. And dude, you get plus points from this football fan for milking the Liverpool vs. Man Utd metaphor for all its worth to explain the rivalry between two religions.
The cast’s uniformly steady performance made this such a pleasure to watch and yours truly was particularly drawn to Shida Mahadi as Nadirah’s happy-go-lucky best friend and, most of all, Neo Swee Lin, who provided us with the play’s emotional pivot with her wonderfully sensitive turn as the mother.
(Nadirah is, erm, sold out. Ack!)