Stage and film actor Trisa Triandesa performs 'Apes (Anak Pesantren),' an adaptation of an Anton Chekhov play set in a Muslim boarding school at Kinosaurus in Kemang, Jakarta, on Wednesday (14/12). (Photo courtesy of Kinosaurus/Ve Handojo)

Beyond Belief: Jakarta Actor Sets Chekhov's Play in Muslim Boarding School


DECEMBER 16, 2016

Jakarta. Ivan Ivanovich from Anton Chekhov's "On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco" was clad in a white two-piece and a waistcoat complete with a brimless cap and a turban around the neck, pouring out his frustration of living in a pesantren — an Islamic boarding school — to the audience at Kinosaurus in Kemang, Jakarta on Wednesday (14/12).

Stage and film actor Trisa Triandesa was the man behind this fresh adaptation of Chekhov's one-act monologue, doing everything — writing, directing, performing — himself.

The performance was cleverly retitled "Apes (Anak Pesantren)," both an acronym for a pesantren boarder and a Jakarta slang for being down on your luck.

Trisa's Ivan Ivanovich is called Adimas, a youngcaretaker at the pesantren who found himself stuck there because that was the only school he could afford. It was either that or dropping out and earning a measly Rp 60,000 ($4.5) per day at a car wash.

"The idea came from the social work I've been doing. I've been teaching children in marginalized areas in Jakarta. Most of them are told to work by their parents instead of studying, but their dedication to get themselves educated moved me," Trisa told the Jakarta Globe.

He said Chekhov's work resonates even today since many people are disappointed with their life and try to find escape.

"The car wash part was based on a true story. One of the kids I taught had to do that to earn money. He had to juggle studying with working until he got really sick and had to drop out of school," the "Selamat Pagi, Malam" ("In the Absence of the Sun") star added.

Trisa's character Adimas felt caged living in a pesantren, where listening to modern music had to be done in secrecy. He also could not express his thoughts on religion freely without being labeled "liberal" or "blasphemous."

The actor said he did quite a bit of research on the life of a santri, or pesantren boarder. He claimed most of the santris he met told him they like to keep up with the latest trends in everything from fashion to music, just like everyone else.

"I am a Muslim and have lived in a pesantren, though only for a short time. But I did see for myself how strict and monotonous it could be. It was praying, studying, reading the Koran and repeat ad nauseam," Trisa said.

Trisa said Adimas does not represent every pesantren or santri community in Indonesia, but he feels the themes touched on by the play are important considering the growing radicalism and intolerance in the country.

The hypocrisy of religious leaders is another main theme in the adaptation, personified in the figure of the pesantren owner, who acts all pious but spends his nights drinking and sleeping with prostitutes.

Problems in adaptation

Trisa, who started writing the play in September, admitted he faced many difficulties adapting the Chekhov original, with last-minute revisions being slotted in just a day before the performance.

"It was tricky because the original character is 60 and married, while my character is still young and single. And I had to be extra cautious because I'm reworking Anton Chekhov, a legend. I'd be slayed if I messed up," the former student of Teater Populer said.

Trisa said he got a lot of help during rehearsal from fellow actors, including heartthrob Reza Rahadian.

He said the performance was worth all the effort, especially since he felt he had made a contribution to the discussion of religious intolerance in Indonesia.

"I believe being an actor is not about showing off, but about delivering a message. Actors should become a storyteller of issues and problems we care about," Trisa said.