Last Wednesday, the cast and crew of the play “Rumah Boneka” (“A Doll’s House”) filled the auditorium at the National Gallery in Central Jakarta, where they have been rehearsing intensively for the past two months.
Working on a set that resembles a comfortable living room, harpist Maya Hasa sits on a sofa as she practices her lines and gestures; she’s been rehearsing for four straight hours.
Behind the curtain, news anchor and talk show host Chantal Della Concetta is twirling around and bowing noiselessly in her ballerina flats.
“Dancing is so difficult,” she said. “To dance and to play piano is the most challenging part of this play because I have never danced and I am blind to music notes.”
While they come from different performance backgrounds, Maya and Chantal will both play Nora, the main character in “Rumah Boneka.” The play was adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” which premiered in 1879, by Faiza Mardzoeki, who has updated the work and made it relevant for Jakarta’s current social scene.
“It’s a good show for women, so we can reflect on whether it’s healthy to always follow our husband’s words,” Chantal said.
The play is staged by Institut Ungu (Purple Institut), a cultural center that promotes women’s rights through the arts. The two-hour play will have a four-day run, starting on Wednesday, at Gedung Kesenian in Central Jakarta. Maya and Chantal will split the performances, each starring in two shows.
Nora, a housewife, dutifully follows the whims of her husband, Tommy Herlambang, a successful banker and a domineering man. As the play progresses, Nora, who is a happy, perky and even childish woman, begins to question her married life, and her husband’s perception of her. Tommy views his wife as a trophy who should bend to his will, and Nora begins to wonder if Tommy will be her hero, which she expects him to be.
Since both Maya and Chantal have gone through divorces, they were thought to have the right life experience to tackle the role.
Chantal, a first-timer theater actress, said she found it hard to match Nora’s chirpy personality, but felt that she could relate to her character’s problems at a deeper level. She said Nora’s problems were relevant in today’s society.
Maya said she felt empathy for Nora, because she ended up being trapped in her own game. Nora is spoiled by her husband and flirts with other men, but remains a mother to her children and a schoolgirl in the eyes of her old friends, and displays a kind and innocent personality to her aunt.
“Nora has created so many worlds for herself and she acts differently for everyone,” Maya said.
“She is a stay-at-home woman and I think she is enjoying her life, but finds difficulty in juggling roles.”
For Maya, who juggles work, school and family every day, it was not difficult to tap into Nora’s character.
While Chantal is a newcomer to the stage, Maya is not. She said she was fond of theater when she was in school and has been involved in several plays over the past 10 years, including one that paired her with veteran actor Slamet Rahardjo. Maya also directed Slamet in her own play.
But Maya said memorizing the hundred of pages of dialogue since August was a challenge. The mother of three is also trying to finish an online course in music therapy, and said she had a difficult time adjusting to memorizing words instead of notes.
“You can give me hundreds of pages of music notes and I won’t have any problem, because it’s already in my system,” Maya said. “Memorizing words is far more difficult.”
Her character in “Rumah Boneka” has far more dialogue than any other character she’s played. Despite the challenge, Maya said she found the tempo and rhythm of playing music similar to the pace of acting. And while she enjoys theater, Maya is quick to says her roots are as a musician. “I will be a harpist until I die,” she said.
After working in front of the camera for eight years, Chantal doesn’t expect to be intimidated when she walks out on the stage. While she’s a news anchor, Chantal said she really considered herself a storyteller. “It used to be news, now it’s a script,” she said.
Chantal said she was at the stage in her career where she was open to learning new crafts, including acting. She took a leave of absence from her job as an anchor at Sindo TV to focus on the play.
“The only thing I am reluctant to do is actually sing,” she said.
Although Institut Ungu is a foundation with a feminist framework, Maya said she was not a feminist. Her belief is that men and women have their own strengths and weaknesses, and they complete each other.
“The play is feminist but I am not,” she said. “Certainly there are things that only men capable of doing, such as peeing while standing behind a tree.”
“A Doll’s House” itself is a story that is applicable to everyone’s life, Maya said.
“Everyone can find their own character and story in this play,” Maya said. She added that she was a huge Broadway fan of plays such as “Miss Saigon” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”
“On the other hand, ‘A Doll’s House’ is a good chance to see some realistic theater in the city,” she said.
Chantal, though, finds it sad that the play, which premiered more than 100 years ago, is still relevant today. “It means that things have not been improving very well for women,” she said.