Subverting the Powers That Be i

The cast of the play have been rehearsing for more than eight months to put on a two-night production.  (Photo courtesy of Institut Ungu)

By : Sylviana Hamdani | on 5:30 PM March 06, 2015
Category : Life & Style, Arts & Culture

"Good literary works are those that transcend their eras and are universal," says Faiza Mardzoeki, an Indonesian playwright and theater producer.

She cites Norwegian playwright, theater director and poet Henrik Ibsen, the father of realism and one of the founders of modernism in theater, as one example of a literary artist whose works transcend the ages.

Ibsen's plays, including "A Doll's House" (1879) and "An Enemy of the People" (1882), are considered classics, and continue to be printed and staged the world over.

"Ibsen's works, for me, are literary masterpieces that have to be read," Faiza says.

"He had keen eyes to observe what was happening in his society and present that to us, the audience, in an engaging story. His works are still relevant even today."

Faiza adapted "A Doll's House" for a stage production in Jakarta in 2011, giving it the Indonesian name " Rumah Boneka ."

The play, which tells the story of a homemaker in 19th-century Norway, was well-received in Jakarta and garnered rave reviews from media.

Faiza is currently producing another adaptation of Ibsen's work, "An Enemy of the People."

"The play is very exciting," she says. "It involves multiple layers of conflicts in society, which are all intricately intertwined."

Faiza has adapted several parts of the play, including the story, setting and names, in order to make them more relevant to Indonesian readers.

Her version, titled " Subversif !", will play at the Graha Bakti Budaya theater, in the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center in Central Jakarta, on March 13 and 14.

The play will be Faiza's ninth with her colleagues at the Institut Ungu, a women's theater collective.

Problems and conflicts

The adapted play tells the story of a fictitious small town in Indonesia, called Kencana, in which an unspecified valuable natural resource is discovered. The small town experiences rapid growth as a mining company, Tambang Harapan Gemilang, sets up shop there.

"The company employs the local people and gives them hope for a better life," Faiza says.

But their dreams for prosperity soon come under threat when a local doctor discovers that the mine is polluting the town's drinking water. The discovery sparks a conflict between the mine owners, the residents, local politicians and the media.

"The conflicts are quite similar to the conflicts that people living in mining towns in Indonesia currently face," Faiza says.

She adds she carried out her own studies of such conflicts in some Indonesian towns as research for the play.

"There are thousands of mines in Kalimantan alone," she says, "and each has its own unique problems and conflicts."

In "Subversif!", even though the mine pollutes the town's drinking water, many people continue to defend it for fear of losing their jobs with the company. The well-meaning local doctor has to face both the people and the mine owners when coming forward with his discovery of the water pollution. And the local politicians and media are torn between these conflicting interests.

"I wanted to highlight the role of the mass media in the conflicts," Faiza says. "As we know, [some] publications are no longer neutral these days. Some of them are owned by politicians and speak for their owners' interests.

No singing or dancing

Dinda Kanya Dewi, an actress in the play, says staging the production is "like transferring Indonesia's modern-day realities onto the stage."

The cast and crew have been rehearsing the play since June last year. (That's right, more than eight months for a two-night production.)

"It's tough, but I truly enjoy the process," Dinda says.

The rehearsals also include discussions about Indonesia's current social, political and environmental issues.

"It's such a text-laden play," Faiza says. "There's no singing or dancing in it. To engage the audience's full attention, the actors and actresses have to perform their roles emphatically. And that's why they have to fully grasp the situation, the context."

The cast and crew put on a two-night preview of the play last October at Muhammadiyah University in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

"We played for two nights in a row, and each night more than 1,000 people turned up," Faiza says.

She also distributed copies of a book adapted from the play, also under the title "Subversif!", to the university students who came to watch.

"Whenever I produce a play, I never think of just the stage production, but also of how the play can improve of children's literary knowledge and appreciation," she says.

To that end, the Jakarta premiere was preceded by the "Ibsen Goes to School" program, in which Faiza and her cast visited several high schools and universities in the capital to discuss about Ibsen's classics.

"Many of them haven't even heard of Henrik Ibsen. It's so sad," she says.

"I believe literary works are windows to the world. The more we know them, the more we understand and appreciate other cultures."

Supporting crew

For the performance in Jakarta, veteran artistic director and lighting designer Iskandar K. Loedin has created a unique stage with revolving walls.

"The revolving walls are a metaphor for the drilling of the mine," Faiza says.

Marcello Pellitteri, a professor from the Berklee College of Music in New York, has also created dark, atmospheric score to underline the conflicts in the play.

The play is also supported by members of the Ciputat Theater Laboratory, or Lab Teater Ciputat, a local troupe filling in the supporting roles.

THE PLAY

A number of high-ranking government officials and foreign dignitaries are expected to attend the premiere of the play on the night of March 13, among a sellout crowd of some 1,500.

Among them are the minister of education and culture, Anies Baswedan, and the Norwegian ambassador to Indonesia, Stig Ingemar Traavik.

"I really hope a lot of students and teachers will turn up among the audience," Faiza says. "It's important for them to learn from classical literature, and also know about the issues that Indonesia is currently facing."

Dinda has similar expectations for the audience.

"I hope they'll also enjoy the show," she says. "And I hope the play will help them realize what's happening all around them and broaden their views." 'Subversif!'

March 13 & 14 at 8 p.m.

Graha Bakti Budaya,Taman Ismail MarzukiCikini, Central JakartaTickets: Rp 50,000 to Rp 100,000 ($3.85 to $7.70)

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