Young Malay urbanites lament their way out of tough situations in daring new theatre anthology.
Written by Arshad Adam | Directed by Azzad Mahdzir, Surnia Fizul & Omar Yunus
Starring Israr Khalid, Shaza Bae, Sein Fattah, Aifa Amalina, Haziq Fadlullah, Izza Izelan & Alan Daniel
In Taman Neapolitan, former alumni from Revolution Stage‘s acting workshops reunite once again as Projek BB to put on a theatre anthology comprising three short plays by Projek BB core member Arshad Adam. These pieces, titled Beromen, Neon and Shit Happens, are respectively directed by Azzad Mahdzir, Surnia Fizul and Omar Yunus.
What about Taman Neapolitan?
Like the ice cream it is styled after, Taman Neapolitan offers three different flavours of acceptance across three different stories. It ignites with a bang; two men and a woman prise from one another a pillow. It’s a game of control which is as surreal as it is seductive, and it also establishes the inequalities of this playing field. Beromen soon evolves into a glimpse of Amad’s turning point as a gay man in love with his best friend, a straight man.
The set continues with Neon‘s ode to lost love, based on blog entries by its writer. Putra returns to the same park bench often in wait for Elsa, the love of his life. She seems to reciprocate, but sometimes he just doesn’t see her — it’s soon revealed that a tragedy has and will keep them apart, likely for the rest of their lives. Taman then ends with the hints of new love on Shit Happens, a comedy of failed suicide attempts and an immense crowd-pleaser.
It’s a vast collection of differing influences and depth tied together in aesthetic. Moody, psychedelic fluorescent tubes colour the stage but also holding the pieces together is the play’s evocative indie-pop soundtrack, which synergises with its lighting for gorgeous ambiance.
What did we like?
Boosted by strong performances from a relatively new cast — kudos to Aifa Amalina‘s brave and complex Leia — opener Beromen asks a number of taboo questions and is viciously visual in its execution: conversations are replaced with tense question and answer card games, while Arshad’s original story is made more distinct through the unique dynamic between these three characters.
Reaching for the highs of Taman Neapolitan‘s first arc is Shit Happens, a funny encounter revolving around new chances and coincidences. Here, Arshad crafts a sweet and rewarding end to the entire set, but major credit is due to Izza Izelan‘s comic timing and likability as Mariam, the barista in love with a customer.
Taman is not short of stylish characters — males come with man-buns or earrings, while women in flowy blouses and glittering dresses — nor stylised language. On top of speaking in a blend of Malay and English (Shit Happens is predominantly in English) some of these characters sound almost Californian, especially in its final arc. It’s an amusing characteristic of Arshad’s writing which lightens the mood of the pieces.
What made us go errr…?
The momentum of the play dwindles soon after initiating with its busy and sensual three-person opener. Taman Neapolitan plunges into couples conversations about loss and grief after Beromen, almost slowing down to halt midway through Neon‘s recollection of a love lost. The piece in particular wants to inspect regret through its verbose language and melodic delivery but the details appear muddy.
When Shit Happens finally commences and the young and emotional Latiff is lamenting a bitter breakup and attempting suicide, Taman has established a whiny turn. Both Putra and Latiff seem to bear an insurmountable pain from their problems. But the smaller your perspective in life, the bigger your burdens appear, and by the end of Taman, both leading men come across provincial, and at worst, petty.
Furthermore, the play’s tendency towards expository dialogue indicates that the biggest problem bogging down Taman is the fact that Arshad’s scripts could still benefit from further proofreading and editing. If there were more work put into maturing Taman Neapolitan‘s pieces, Arshad Adam’s first full-length solo play could have been the spunky exploration of contemporary urban issues it hinted to be.
Room for refinement aside, three cheers to Projek BB for choosing to bring these fresh, bilingual characters and stories to the stage. Those involved in Taman Neapolitan should be lauded for choosing to tackle fresh themes; may these young thespians continue challenging themselves in stimulating local minds with more thought-provoking Malay-language theater.
Taman Neapolitan takes place at Studio RS from 22 – 31 July 2016 at 3:30PM and 8:30PM, all tickets are priced at just RM20! Don’t forget to follow Taman Neapolitan and Projek BB for more updates or get your tickets from Fyza Mokhtar by calling +6019 458 8854. Featured image by Syazwan Zakariah via Izza Izelan!