“Entanglement of Intimacy”
Reviewer: Beverly Yuen
Performance: 1 October 2016
What happens when your family member is your love, your burden, sanctuary, and hatred all at the same time?
The Malay Man and His Chinese Father, directed by Noor Effendy Ibrahim, and staged at Goodman Arts Centre Black Box, was first presented at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2015.
In this staging, the Chinese father (Michael Tan) and Malay son (Yazid Jalil) are played by the same actors as the first. However, one prominent element which is missing is Asnida Daud vocally accentuating the helpless states of the characters, and suggesting the presence of the wife’s “ghost”. The presence of this “ghost” throws the contrast in ethnicity into sharper relief.
While the character development and psychological narrative of the father and son are much more detailed and layered in this realistic rendering, the contrasting ethnicity is downplayed in this staging. Nonetheless, I am not suggesting this piece is any less enjoyable.
I savour this work with disconcerting relish. The speechless and cyclic representation of life reminds me of film director’s Tsai Ming-liang’s Vive L’Amour. But this show is much more repressed and dysfunctional, as the world of the father and son is contained within a two-room flat.
The play opens with the father and son in their briefs, and going about their daily household chores in a routine manner. This immediately establishes an intimate space, with audience seated as close as 50cm from the actors.
Through realistic actions of the son serving the father porridge and coffee, bathing him, and movements of tussling and cuddling, the conflicts of the intimate relationship between the two are portrayed— embrace versus struggle; support versus resistance. The son feels the need to help the father relive the memory of his wife by dressing in his mother’s kebaya, and experiences sexual abuse from his father thinking that the son is his wife.
The recurring action of opening and closing of windows also has great symbolic significance in the piece. The son is finding a way to escape from the household to seek a way to live, but he seems to be trapped in the pleasure of torture while being confined with the father. The simple act surrounding the windows also signifies the secrets within the household which risk exposure.
With suppressed frustration, the son wants to help his father find strength through the latter’s reminiscence of his wife, but he grapples to let go of his father. This too, hurts for the audience.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
THE MALAY MAN AND HIS CHINESE FATHER by Akulah Bimbo Sakti
29 September – 2 October 2016
Goodman Arts Centre Black Box
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Beverly Yuen is an arts practitioner, and co-/founder of Theatre OX and In Source Theatre. She keeps a blog at beverly-films-events.blogspot.sg.