The Jakarta Post
Beyond the stars: Arjuna (Rangga Rintiarno, left) falls in love with an alien named Ssumphphwttsspahzaliapahssttphph (Tuti Hartati) from the planet Ssumvitphphpah, 12 billion light years from Earth, in Teater Koma’s latest play, Gemintang. (Image Dynamics/File)
Gemintang, which is also the group’s first major work in 2018, premiered at Graha Bhakti Budaya in Taman Ismail Marzuki in Central Jakarta recently, telling a story of intergalactic love torn apart due to greed and unbridled ambition.
Teater Koma’s previous works were usually set in a fantasy universe, which could be centuries in the past or some time in a dystopian future. But for Gemintang, the group tried to take on a sci-fi-inspired play, set in a foreign yet familiar nation where corruption reigns supreme.
The main protagonist in Gemintang is Arjuna (Rangga Rintiarno), who falls in love with an alien named Ssumphphwttsspahzaliapahssttphph (Tuti Hartati) from the planet Ssumvitphphpah, 12 billion light years from Earth.
Due to the alien’s unwieldy name, Arjuna calls her Sumbadra, evoking comparisons to Arjuna’s wife in the Indian epic Mahabharata.
True to their naming convention, Arjuna plans to propose to Sumbadra, bringing her to meet his family in Jakarta. The only thing is, Arjuna’s father, Wibowo (Budi Ros), is a prominent yet corrupt figure in the country’s political scene, on the run from authorities, who have him in their sight.
Gemintang’s interstellar romance takes a back seat to Arjuna’s dysfunctional family; from Wibowo’s two wives, Astini (Daisy Lantang) and Niken (Ina Kaka), to Arjuna’s high school-aged sister, Pratiwi (Bunga Karuni). Each member of the family has their own concerns and complicities in Wibowo’s corruption.
Like previous Teater Koma productions, Gemintang does not shy away from taking shots at today’s social ills, both in the government and in public spheres.
Dark vibe: A scene depicts Arjuna and his dysfunctional family in Teater Koma’s Gemintang. As usual, the play features Teater Koma’s distinctive noir lighting and vibe. (Image Dynamics/File)
The play touches on a myriad of issues on the topic of corruption in the country, with cheeky nods to recent graft cases, such as the one on real-life former House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto, when Subrat and Sakiro predict that Wibowo would try to orchestrate a car crash to avoid investigation.
Jokes on graft suspects aside, Gemintang also takes aim at societal attitudes that encourage corruption, such as limitless ambition for power and riches, as shown by Astini and Niken’s socialite posse gossiping unabashedly over Wibowo’s phenomenal wealth.
Even Pratiwi’s seemingly permissive attitude toward her father’s deeds are put on blast, with her saying her allowance and school tuition fee are acceptable as they are part of “a father’s responsibilities”.
For his own part, Wibowo seems to have some regrets regarding his family situation, expressing his sorrow for time lost during his rapid rise from businessman to a representative for the people.
It is debatable whether the audience should sympathize with any of them, given the play’s heavy-handed tone toward corruption, but one might feel a pang of pity regarding Wibowo’s aging mother Sahlinaz (Ratna Rintiarno) and his estranged brother Sahranasyad (Idries Pulungan).
“Who will take us now? An old woman and her crazy son? We will have to rely on the kindness of strangers who will put a roof over our heads from now on,” Sahlinaz says mournfully in one of her last scenes.
Indonesia’s most celebrated theater group Teater Koma remains true to its roots of being socially conscious while taking on a completely new narrative approach in its 153rd production, titled Gemintang. (Image Dynamics/File)
Those not so politically inclined can still enjoy Gemintang, as most of the jokes and gags are accessible enough to attract a wide range of audience members. A scene of Arjuna and Sumbadra musing on the vastness of space has its own laughs as well.
“Our people have not seen the extent of the universe, and we know not whether the universe is spherical or flat,” Sumbadra says while taking shots at the currently trending pseudoscience group known as “flat Earthers”.
Also impressive in the play is the cast, showing off their vocal range and moves, with choreography by Ratna Ully alongside a musical score by Fero Aldianya Stefanus.
Those familiar with Teater Koma’s productions and who want to see them poke fun at the state of the nation do not want to miss Gemintang, while those who want to see a fun play will certainly get what they ask for, along with several things to think about.
Norbertus “Nano” Rintiarno, the founder of Teater Koma as well as Gemintang’s director and writer, said earlier the play was very simple, but becomes something else entirely when the script is analyzed.
“Gemintang is set in a nation where mankind has eschewed knowledge and education for corruption […] What would happen when the younger generation tries to break free from the older generation’s sins?” (jlm)