Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Rojak Revisited

Fiona and I went to see The Oral Stage's Rojak on Sunday with Fiona Wan at KLPac, principally to cheer on one of our own. (Both Priya and Fiona did my writing class.) But I always suffer pangs of guilt that I don't make enough effort to see local productions, particularly when some of the freshest local writing finds its way onto stage. As happened too with this collection of shorts and monologues.

Rojak was an excellent name for the production, because there was such a variety of stories and styles. Sanjiv Gnaneswaran's Who Wants to be a Malaysian? was a hilarious skit in the Instant Cafe Theatre mould - a multiple choice test for all those who want to become citizens. Sample question: What do malaysian's use least when they're on the road: a) their indicators b)their helmets c)their seatbelts d) their brains.

Rauf Fadzillah's The Damnation Recital was most surreal and dark - the characters trapped in a kind of hell. I'm not sure I "got" it, but the staging was compelling. I loved the moment when his main character laughed at the audience telling them that he had taken something from us all, something we didn't have anymore - fifteeen minutes of our lives.

My favourite piece was Me Speak No French written by Doreen Loo and performed by Emily Yoon - a very clever monologue on the difficulties of hosting an elegant dinner party. I suppose I enjoyed it most because I can identify with it. I've also ended up with a beautifully laid table, a gourmet dinner in the oven - and no guests.

Two very good pieces by Patricia Low could have been stronger with a little more dramatic tension. Print was an extended conversation between two guys sitting at a roadside mamak stall. Low has an excellent ear for dialogue, and you got the impression that you could have been a fly on the table at a real stall. But there was no climax in the scene until the two guys got hit by a passing car. (Quite realistic in the Malaysian context!) But all drama needs conflict or it sags.

Low's A Very Happy Story showed how life would be in the perfect family with no discord. Kids who have their mind set firmly on their studies and don't talk back, parents who are constantly kind and considerate. Of course it all becomes surreal and even a little frightening! (Have these guys been lobotomised?!) But I was expecting something to happen and shatter the dream - and it needed to happen. As Lagos Egri says:
Conflict is the heartbeat of all writing.
Priya appeared in her own Romanticization, looking desperately sick, arm in sling, on a hospital bed and was soon involved in a conversation with a "nurse" who seemed to be another part of herself, reminding her of all the abuse and exploitation at the hands of the different men in her life and the way women are often in denial about what happens to them.

Fiona and I were pondering everything we had seen in the car on the way home. There was a fair bit we hadn't quite understood (What do you think that represented? Was it supposed to be -?). But we both agreed we'd been thoroughly entertained and there was an awful lot of emerging talent on that stage.

Rauf and Priya looking ghoulish in the lobby afterwards!


lil ms d said...

sharon sharon remember you wrote about how malaysians shoudn't write in manglish.. soemthing to that effect? and that there is an audience we have to pander to?

am reading beasts of no nation. it's in nigerian-english patois. and it's fab. i'll lend you the book once i'm done with it.

bibliobibuli said...

ms d - don't misquote me! i love malaysian english and i'd say use it ... just you have to be v. careful if using a load of mother tongue in there

i have lots more to write on manglish 'cept you will have to be patient because i haven't brainspace at the mo. between everything else that's happening ...

i love nigerian pidgin - can speak it as well as the rest - the question is do you get lost in any parts - if not the writer has done a great job, giving you the local flavour yet keeping the reader hooked ... that's what to aim for ... and as shirley lim found, it isn't always an easy balance to strike

Anonymous said...

"Conflict is the heartbeat of all writing."

That is so true. And BTW I think your code's messed up again :P

bibliobibuli said...

must sort the code out ... meanwhile if youa re viewing me on IE cahnge to firefox

pat l. said...

hi. thanks for the comments :) yes, a fair bit of people also share your sentiments on 'a very happy story'. grateful for the feedback. i still have much to learn!

thanks again!

bibliobibuli said...

pat - you're producing some pretty exciting stuff - keep at it! i am looking forward to seeing what you come up with next

also would love to see you develop 'a very happy story' further - i really did enjoy it and it deserves another staging

in the meantime (bossy ex-english teacher that i am) would recommend to you lajos egri's "the art of dramatic writing" which is very good on how to build conflict (not easily available locally but amazon and abebooks.com will have it - get the group to buy a copy out of funds and share it around!)

Fiona1 said...

I enjoyed the shorts very much - am amazed at the potential here.
Hope there are more to come from this group in the future.