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.
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.