First play in new venue PJPac tackles climate change and social isolation
It was a haunting photograph, which would leave a lasting impression on the mind of director Christopher Ling.
Swedish photographer Magnus Wennman’s image showed two teenage Kosovar refugees lying in bed, motionless.
Their coma-like state was due to a little-known condition called ‘resignation syndrome’ (believed to exist only in refugees in Sweden) which makes patients immobile, dumb and unable to eat and drink.
âI was really stumped when I first looked at it. My initial thought was how it was possible – in our time – that a person could easily fall into a coma when their ideal life circumstances no longer match, ârecalls Ling, 46, co-founder and artistic director of Theatrethreesixty.
To maintain this theatrical idea, Ling approached Penang playwright Yusof Bakar in 2018 to write a science fiction play, using photography as a writing prompt.
âI was also intrigued by the possibility for us as playmakers to immerse an audience in a strange and unfamiliar world – on a limited production budget.
âCould a sci-fi themed play work without the external attributes of set and costume? Asks Ling, who directed the pre-pandemic drama 24 Jam Dalam 37 Tahun Last year.
The script for this new project was finally completed in January this year, rehearsals started in March and this week theatergoers can catch this new show titled Orang Bulan.
Orang Bulan opens April 29 at the Nero event space of the Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Center (PJPac), 1 Utama shopping center.
The play will be the first production to be staged at the new venue for the arts as part of its soft launch program. PJPac will officially open its doors on May 25.Orang Bulan also marks Theatrethreesixty’s return to directing productions for a live audience from Motion Control First Order (MCO) last year.
The hour-long two-handed game, which will be presented in Bahasa Malay with English surtitles, stars Dzeelfa Zainal and Anwar Hadi. Kirthana Kuhendran composed the original music and soundscape for the show.
âComing back to a real theater space is like feeling the warm embrace of an old friend.
âI would dare say that even just having the opportunity to physically conduct a rehearsal in person had the same rejuvenating effect on me,â Ling says.
Orang Bulan talks about Luna (Dzeelfa) who lives on a lunar colony with her son Nila (Anwar), a rare earth mineral miner.
Their seemingly peaceful lunar life is shaken when they are both forcibly repatriated to Earth with the imminent replacement of the existing lunar workforce with robots.
Unable to cope with the sudden change, the long-suffering mother plunges into a fit of resignation syndrome. In the process, more secrets are dredged to the surface.
âAt a glance, it’s the story of a mother struggling with her past. In another look, it’s a story about resignation syndrome.
âBut if you look deeper, this is also the story of a catastrophe that will almost certainly happen to Earth in the future due to climate change.
“So it’s a multi-level play, waiting for the audience to dive in and enjoy it,” says Yusof, whose writing credits include Resiprokal, Dusta Pada Skala 1 Hingga 10 and MÃ¼nchausen Melalui Proksi.
Ling mentions that he was introduced to Yusof through a KL staging of Resiprokal (a compilation of his short pieces) in 2017.
âI admired his deceptively simple writing style that places seemingly mainstream everyday characters in rather unconventional, sometimes even fantastic, situations.
“While debating high-profile issues as if these were the kinds of things you would happily discuss with your husband or friend. It was then that I decided that I would like to direct some of his. work, âLing says.Orang Bulan, Ling says, features a very human story that focuses on a dysfunctional mother-son relationship while tackling something bigger and dangerous in the background.
âIf we, as a post-pandemic public, are so scared and stressed about the pandemic, we should be more concerned about what will happen to Earth as a result of climate change.
“Orang Bulan gives some ideas on what will happen in a few hundred years if we ignore these early signs of Earth suffering. If the Earth changes, humans will change with it too, for better or for worse, âYusof explains.
Despite the themes surrounding isolation and anxiety, Ling says that Orang Bulan does not directly reflect the pandemic situation.
“Basically, I believe that Orang Bulan invites us to take a look at the decisions we are forced to make when faced with situations of unbearable stress and increasing uncertainty.
âAt the end of the day, audiences go to the theater to see themselves on stage, to make sure they’re not the only ones feeling what they feel as a human being,â Ling concludes.
Orang Bulan performs at the Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Center (PJPac), 1 Utama Shopping Center from April 29 to May 2. Show time: 9 p.m. Ticket price: 30 RM. The capacity of the theater space has been reduced to 50 people per performance and public health SOPs must be observed. More details here.