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Production

Peti Kayu Ibu

Company

Teater Ekamatra

Reviewer

Kenneth Kwok

Date

27/04/2008

Time

3.00pm

Place

The Necessary Stage Black Box

Rating

***1/2

Old Wives' Tale

I had fixed ideas about what Peti Kayu Ibu would be like based on my background knowledge that it was a one-woman play in which actress Mastura Ahmad would be reminiscing about her character's mother with mementoes from her mother's wooden chest as the impetus for each story. Unless director M. Rohaizad Suaidi or adapting playwright Alfian Sa'at had decided to truly re-imagine Kuo Pao Kun's My Mother's Wooden Chest upon which Peti Kayu Ibu was based, I expected something sincere and unpretentious presented in an understated, naturalistic mode - and that was, indeed, what the play delivered.

Peti Kayu Ibu began with Mastura entering the darkened Necessary Stage Black Box which was bare except for a large wooden structure surrounded by sand. She then told us stories about her relationship with her ibu (mother), in particular, how complex their relationship had been because she was an illegitimate child from one of her father's extra-marital affairs. These salt-of-the-earth stories which explored the difficulties of women in a patriarchal society and more specifically the complexities of motherhood followed a predictable arc but came off nonetheless as heartfelt.

By about midway through the play, however, I found myself searching for something more. Essentially, the problem for me was that the play struck the same wistful note over the length of its 70 minutes and this extended lament soon began to wear me down. Even when adopting such a straightforward approach to a play, it is important that the individual stories engage. In this case, however, the details of the anecdotes eventually became a blur in my mind because each recount simply served as a checkpoint for the character's life journey rather than an interesting story in its own right. The writing felt formulaic and functional and there was no new insight to the themes being offered either. The situation was not helped by the fact that there was little variety in the emotional texture of the play as a whole - more humour would have added much needed colour - and the staging was static for the most part. Rohaizad did try to shake things up on occasion but even these striking directorial efforts lacked impact because they too came across as simply par for the course for the genre - contrived rather than organic. Mastura, whose character eventually becomes a single mother who has to abandon her own child, slowly rips off the limbs of a baby doll in one scene, for example, and subsequently runs around the stage frantically trying to re-gather these body parts which she finds buried in the sand. In another scene, sand falls from above the stage as if it is too painful for memories to remain exposed after they have been unearthed. Unfortunately, neither idea is particularly inspired (sand falling onto the stage as a visual effect is something I have actually seen in quite a few plays before although I admit it is always quite beautiful and sad to behold) and therefore they were affecting only for the moment.

Having said that, I liked the representation of the mother's wooden chest not as an actual chest but as something big enough for the actress to actually sit on and climb over. It was roughly the size of three beds and had hidden spaces within from which Mastura could pull out the memorabilia she was referring to. This meant that all the items were displayed one after the other as the stories unfolded and they were left there on-stage, visually recreating for us the tapestry of memories that Mastura's character was going over with her mind's eye. It was a powerful metaphor for a mother's love: it is all-encompassing and manifold, filled with hidden treasures. The strongest element of the production, however, was the fine performance by Mastura. She played most scenes with a blank, stony face but she seemed so completely lost within her performance that it convinced. This was, after all, a woman choked with regret and longing and Mastura managed to hint at these hidden depths through careful nuance; I especially appreciated how she infused her character's tiredness into her every word, action and expression.

Masura's performance achieved a depth that the rest of the play didn't always reach but, to be fair, Peti Kayu Ibu remains a solid work and a reasonable way to spend an afternoon. Unfortunately, it lacked the imagination to go beyond its limitations to be a truly memorable piece of work.


"The strongest element of the production was the fine performance by Mastura - she played most scenes with a blank, stony face but she seemed so completely lost within her performance that it convinced"

Credits

Playwright: Alfian Sa’at

Director: M. Rohaizad Suaidi

Stage Manager: Shahira Hamzah Caffoor

Lighting Manager: Irfan Kasban

Technical Advisor: Rosdi Subdi

Lighting Operator: Asyurah Ismail

Sound Designer: Shariza Abdul Hamid

Make-up Artist: Mimi Jasmine

Subtitle Operator: Syamimi Zainal

Crew: Shan Rievan, Khairul Hilmi, Mali Zukifli Bin Mai Amli

Cast: Mastura Ahmad

More Reviews by Kenneth Kwok

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.