How Stereo Genmai Challenged My Comfort Zone in Theatre (REVIEW)
By now, many in the performing arts scene would have known of the name Ridhwan Saidi. He had staged 3 of his Teater Modular series (the final one I reviewed here), and recently staged his second Teater Normcore, “Stereo Genmai”. If you have known him as a novelist previously, Stereo Genmai was one of his novels. He adapted it into a two act play for Teater Normcore, and it was staged in Kotak, Five Arts Centre last week.
If you managed to catch his plays, you will know by now as well that they are absolutely postmodern. Stereo Genmai told the story of K.M Raslan (Ani Aziz), who is looking for his girlfriend, D. (Hannan Barakbah), who disappears. We later find out that his girlfriend is actually the female character of the novel he had been working on for 5 years. You will not find a linear narrative in the story, as suddenly K.M. Raslan travels into the world of “continuum idea dan mimpi” and meets Delia (Nyna Roslan), and her teacher, the one-eyed Flores Chin (Sandee Chew). The play then goes on with scenes of D. coming back to threaten K.M. Raslan for keeping her stuck in a mall, scenes of love developing between K.M. Raslan and Delia, and a few more with eye balls. You have to watch it to get it.
As I was watching the play, I tried making sense of this world in Stereo Genmai. I tried understanding the actors’ motivation, I tried understanding the writer’s intention. I tried giving meaning to each visual presentation – until I realise there isn’t any intrinsic meaning.
Stereo Genmai, just like most other Ridhwan Saidi’s plays, are ideas he just wanted to write and stage, and then later, he’ll wait to see how they make us feel. Just like the long wait we all endured when the show ended. Then BAM! We realise Stereo Genmai was about feminism and irritating male writers. Just like BAM!, “oh, someone has to start asking questions rupanya. This is the Q&A lah duhh”.
That being said, I love the audio visuals in the play – the tearing of the paper curtain to reveal Flores Chin’s room, brilliant. The fire clip as the play starts is an atmospheric vibe I will not forget. The song that played during K.M. Raslan and Delia’s love scenes, as well as the movie clip that accompanies the birth of Stereo G was comedic and genuine.
And so, I have made the decision from that day onwards that I shall now no longer go into a Ridhwan Saidi’s play with the idea that I am going to watch a play. It is more like watching a live art – a moving and visual presentation of his words. I say so because of all the actors, I was drawn most to Ani Aziz. It was strange because Ani Aziz was a name not familiar to me, and I assume he is new. Many of his choices were cliched, and yet it worked. Accompanied by Ridhwan’s uncliched and unanticipated characters’ actions, cliche is the way to go if you are acting in a Ridhwan Saidi’s piece. Cliche usually makes me cringe, but cliche and Ani Aziz makes a hilarious combination.
Just like Ani, Nyna Roslan also made a lot of cliched and stereotypical choices, and it works as wonderfully. My first observation on the characters is that they mostly live in the moments. Not much time passes from 1 scene to the next, or at least, it wasn’t shown – on purpose. This creates an idea that the characters are not going through a character arch, rather, they jump from decisions to decisions. And because of that as well, I find D. and Flores Chin’s character quite rigid.
Both the actors being well trained and known, I could point out moments when their theatre training come to disturb their flow – too much here and there. Hannan’s slightly overdone expressions gives me a contrasting feel about the character, while Sandee’s constant self-consciousness about her physicality takes away my attention from her words and her character’s gentle love for Delia.
The script’s scattered humour and ideas will only work if actors say it as so, and Hannan and Sandee’s bringing motives into their characters hence defeat the purpose. I particularly love the scene where K.M. Raslan talks to his now flying novel of a child. “Stereo G, balik, dah nak masuk senja ni.” I died. Actually, I died earlier when K.M. Raslan was carrying his crying novel child, and Ani Aziz’s nonchalant face when he lifts up his sweater to breast feed the baby just killed me.
My second observation is that Ridhwan casted his actors physically well. Each of them looked the part, and I looooove Nyna’s features as Delia. She shone well under the spotlight with her cheeky expressions!
At the end of the day, postmodern theatre is about how it all makes you feel. What meanings the audience brought home after they finish watching. How effective was the play at making you WANT to think and feel. Sure it may drag out at certain parts, but some comedic moments really stuck with me, as much as how I’ll probably remember how the actors look along the setting more than I can remember what they said.
What I got from Stereo Genmai, is that we have too many male writers and not enough female characters. When a hardy male writer like K.M. Raslan tries to write about a woman, he fails. They failed. Women can be more than what their male writers deemed them to be, and as for D., she got it. She got him pretty good in the end. I guess that is something I truly appreciate this time about Ridhwan Saidi’s script. We follow a male protagonist who simply did not do much in the story. He met 3 female characters in his life, and they are the one who influenced him towards his end. They brought Stereo G into this world. They are the story.
3.5 / 5
Featured Image Photo: Moka Mocha Ink
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