A Mi­asma of se­crets

David Lim’s mi­asma deals with deadly se­crets that can hide in the most or­di­nary lives, and the con­se­quences of un­rav­el­ling them.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Re­view by DINESH KU­MAR MAGANATHAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

SE­CRETS. All of us have them. Some are shared, some are for­got­ten, and some lie dan­ger­ously hid­den, like sleep­less mal­ice, await­ing their time to come forth. It is th­ese se­crets that daunt us in our wak­ing hours and haunt us in our sleep. There is no telling when they will come to light.

And it is this un­rav­el­ling that most of us dread. What if some­one finds out our deep­est and dark­est se­crets? What if this de­mon that has been locked away de­cides to break free from its chains and wreak havoc?

This is the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of the many char­ac­ters of Mi­asma, a col­lec­tion of four short plays pre­sented by Lu­mi­nal Edge. Not in any way con­nected to each other (a com­mon­place prac­tice by many Malaysian the­atre pro­duc­tions), the four sto­ries take a voyeuris­tic look at the lives of two best friends, a fa­ther and his two chil­dren, a son and his mother, and a host of other char­ac­ters and the se­crets that they live with.

Di­rected by David Lim, of God Of Car­nage and Boom fame, the four plays were writ­ten by new­com­ers Shamaine Oth­man and Adi­wi­jaya (whose real name is Iskan­dar Is­mail) and vet­er­ans Na’a Murad and Maya Tan Ab­dul­lah, and were staged at the Da­mansara Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre in Kuala Lumpur.

Of the four, the one that struck a chord with this writer was Ba­pak by Adi­wi­jaya. The story tack­led the re­la­tion­ship be­tween an older sis­ter and her brother and their re­la­tion­ship with their fa­ther. It be­gan with the brother want­ing to con­front some­one for his trans­gres­sions only to be dis­cour­aged by his sis­ter, who in­sists this per­son has re­pented and changed. The sib­lings then have a meal with their fa­ther but what should have been nor­mal din­ner con­ver­sa­tion takes a dra­matic turn when the brother con­fronts his fa­ther about mo­lest­ing his sis­ter.

Ten­sions flare up and ac­cu­sa­tion af­ter ac­cu­sa­tion are shot like fiery ar­rows. In all of this, the fa­ther tries to calmly rea­son his way out while the sis­ter de­nies hav­ing ever said such a thing to her brother. The play ends with the sis­ter in­sist­ing that she will re­main be­hind to look af­ter their fa­ther and im­plor­ing the brother to leave them alone.

Play­ing the char­ac­ter of the sis­ter with con­vic­tion, vul­ner­a­bil­ity and a silent an­guish is Siti Far­rah Ab­dul­lah. This role could very eas­ily have been over­played and un­nec­es­sar­ily drama­tised but Siti Far­rah lent grav­i­tas to her char­ac­ter, at once mak­ing the sis­ter be­liev­able and ac­ces­si­ble to the au­di­ence.

Siti Far­rah also shone in her abil­ity to por­tray the silent and in­ter­nal tor­ment of her char­ac­ter, es­pe­cially when the brother de­tails the horror of how their fa­ther raped her in the nights af­ter their mother’s death. She just sat there, qui­etly, wit­ness­ing the whole ac­count and one can see her body wax­ing with the weight of truth.

Another ac­tor who should be lauded is Zukhairi Ah­mad, who was not only a de­light to watch as the brother but also as Nazim in Maya Tan Ab­dul­lah’s Du­nia Le­laki, in which he plays a con­flicted young man who is faced with the pres­sures of liv­ing up to his mother’s ex­pec­ta­tions. Funny and charm­ing, Zukhairi made his char­ac­ters lik­able.

The pro­duc­tion took a min­i­mal­is­tic ap­proach to stag­ing, us­ing sim­ple props only when nec­es­sary. But what gave Mi­asma that in­ti­mate feel was the set de­sign by Freddy Tan. All three sides of the stage were draped in black cloth, mak­ing the scenes look that much more pri­vate. The long, en­twined strips of black cloth seemed like metaphors for the twisted se­crets that en­tan­gled the char­ac­ters, and when the char­ac­ters ex­ited, it looked like they were swal­lowed by the dark­ness.

Mi­asma did have its share of short­com­ings. For one, the last two plays were slightly con­fus­ing, es­pe­cially Hun­dred (writ­ten by Na’a), which fol­lows the trail of a hun­dred ring­git note. Since some ac­tors played more than one char­ac­ter and the play stretched for what felt like a long time (though each play was sup­pos­edly 20 min­utes long), I won­dered if the same char­ac­ter pro­gressed with the pas­sage of time.

Fur­ther­more, Amelia Chen failed to con­vey the dan­ger­ously jeal­ous char­ac­ter of Nora in Noah (writ­ten by Shamaine), a sim­ple, dark com­edy about Nora who ac­cuses Linda, her preg­nant best friend, of steal­ing the name Noah for her soon-to-be-born son. Chen seemed too calm and non­cha­lant when con­fronting Linda, even af­ter her wa­ter breaks be­cause of the con­fronta­tion. There was no drive to her char­ac­ter and her act­ing was only pass­able.

None­the­less, Mi­asma had all the right el­e­ments to form an en­gag­ing and truth­ful play that han­dled heavy yet close-to-the-heart topics with­out any pre­ten­sions.

Tor­mented soul: Siti Far­rah

ab­dul­lah bril­liantly evoked the silent trauma of sex­ual abuse in ba­pak. – Pho­tos by ray­mOnd OOI/The Star

Zukhairi ah­mad’s char­ac­ter is ‘man­ning-up’ be­fore he con­fronts his mother in du­nia.

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