Event Review: “Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa” by Irfan Kasban
Who: Playwright/Director, Irfan Kasban. Actors Rian Asrudi, Sani Hussin, Mastura Ahmad.
Where: The Substation
When: 16 – 18th February 2012
By: Teater Ekamatra, M1 Fringe Festival 2012: Art & Faith[/box_dark]
In this trilogy of plays by Irfan Kasban (we did an interview with him before the start of the festival), there’s Genap 40, WC and 94:05. In his own words, Irfan describes:
Genap 40, the first piece, is inspired by the birth of mankind, through Adam and Hawa (Eve). It talks about predestination, afterlife and the human condition. Genap 40 stars Mastura Ahmad playing a recently pregnant woman named Hawa, who requests for a meeting with the angel, Malaikat. The set is created as an art installation, and will performed in a ritualistic fashion, with Hawa preparing 40 glasses of tea.
W.C., inspired by the sacrifice of Ismail in Ibrahim’s hands, explores comfort and displacement. Two men are trapped in a toilet by circumstance, trying to negotiate a comfortable relationship in a very awkward space. Physicality is explored, with elements of Hajj pilgrimage, which frames the actions and gestures of the characters. Actors, Rian Asrudi and Sani Hussin, will literally be contained in a transparent toilet cubicle with very limited space to move. An intruder occasionally appears, shifting the balance of power and authority over the private space.
94:05, a monologue, invites the audience to the life and memories of Ahmad bin Abdullah, who struggles with his health, where death appears to more eminent with each passing day. He recites Surah 94 – Relief, focusing on 94:05 “So, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief”, and shares stories of the Prophet Muhammad from memory, to ease himself, and maybe even find a reason to want to continue live.
Irfan is particularly gifted with words. The outstanding and moving script was chock full of symbolism and wordplay and I would honestly have enjoyed just reading the script without seeing it performed. But maybe that’s because I have always been a lover of words.
Having said that, the casting is perfect and the performance by Rian Asrudi, Sani Hussin and Mastura Ahmad deserves honorable mentions and an ovation. For a theatre debut, Rian Asrudi really shone and I was deeply impressed with his commanding presence. He displayed as much indifference as a Malaikat could in Genap 40, and was flawless in WC.
Mastura Ahmad’s expressions, intonation and body language was something I truly admired. Her wistful expressions, defiant tone of voice and quiet submission in Genap 40 spoke volumes and really gave Genap 40 a unique flavour.
As for Sani Hussin, he is the true powerhouse during the trilogy. Looking as if he has been doing this all his life (and I guess he actually has), he was such a natural with the audience, with the set, and he was one with the script. The last of the plays, 94:05, was by far my favourite, making me laugh, smile, reflect and cry. The character was so lovable and honest that one could not help but relate to his experiences.
While Genap 40 had a slightly feminist undertone and a rebellious streak to it, I felt as if the 3 plays charted Irfan’s personal relationship with Islam. In Genap 40, Hawa’s questions and defiance with the Malaikat hinted at an inner displeasure that is not alien to many adherents to the faith. At one point in our lives, we too asked some pertinent questions, although they may never leave our lips.
In WC, which was really open to interpretation, the rebellion had toned down although he maintained the critical and questioning view of faith. But in 94:05, it came across as a play that was written by someone who had a deep connection to the faith, one who may have many more questions but had arrived at a peaceful acceptance.
All 3 plays were deeply poetic but 94:05 stuck with me the most because of the many stories of Prophet Muhammad’s (S) life that was included in the script. It takes someone who had deep love and respect for the Prophet (S) to include him (S) in his art, in the character’s life and portray him (S) with such love. As Ahmad (Sani Hussin) tells the audience story after story of his own life interspersed with stories from the sirah, it really showed just how much the stories had influenced and inspired Irfan. And showed us how the power of storytelling could create the personal connection with the listeners/audience, even if the topic may be as confusing or touchy as faith and religion.
Playwright and political commentator Wajahat Ali draws a distinction between two types of artistic production. The first he calls “for us, by us.” This is art that is created by Muslims for Muslims. Some of it may be didactic or theologically centered, but generally it’s art that is created absent any engagement with a broader cultural context and engagement. The second he dubs “by us, for everyone.” He sees this as a production that may be deeply embedded in and reflective of a Muslim experience, but that also speaks to broader audiences, and intentionally so. It is an art that engages the cultural setting in which it is created, so that we can point to a play like Ali’s “Domestic Crusaders,” and see it as a play about Pakistanis, about Muslims, and about Americans.
These two ways of looking at art are important in understanding how national narratives are constructed. Popular culture becomes an important way of contesting who is “in” and who is “out.” If Muslims are not engaged in crafting popular culture, they are missing an important way of engaging in the national narrative.
During the post-show dialogue, I asked Irfan, “As a Muslim, do you feel responsible for portraying the right message or image of Islam in your plays?” to which he replied “What is a Muslim?” and said that he feels that no one could be good enough to actually represent Islam. He didn’t say it in a blasphemous “I am not a Muslim”-way but rather, in a humble “let Islam speak for itself”-way. That warrants a whole new discussion altogether as to the role of Muslim writers and artists but not the point of this post.
I shall end by saying that I really enjoyed “Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa” and am looking forward to the next thing by Teater Ekamatra and Irfan Kasban![divider]
Ameera is the Editor of Muzlimbuzz.sg, a chronic reader and a news junkie.