Kenny Santana, Contributor, Jakarta, firstname.lastname@example.org
It's rare to see a local production combining dance, theater and music, but dance company EKI Production has staged several shows using those elements to popular acclaim for Jakartan audiences. Add some stars and solid promotions, and EKI brought the crowds flocking to the Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (GKJ) last weekend to watch Miss Kadaluwarsa.
The Sunday matinee show began 30 minutes late, but with a nice touch. Instead of the ordinary on-stage opening, EKI members marched into the hall from the main doors dressed as the funereal entourage for what turned out to be the funeral of Sampek. Those familiar with the Sampek-Engtay legend knew that the Chinese couple would transform into butterflies because of their unrequited love.
To portray this, EKI dancers donned colorful sheer costumes, impersonating butterflies with their movements. Sadly this first dance piece leaves no impression, because it looks like they're flapping their arms like wings but nothing more.
Thankfully this was quickly saved by the presence of Sampek and Engtay reincarnated as Loro and Blonyo looking cute in Javanese traditional wedding costumes, lending a comic narration to the story. With their heavy Chinese accents and Javanese movements, together they cheekily introduce the audience to the story's characters.
So we are told the story of Narsih, a poor village woman who became successful and rich by taking on the new name Narcissi -- obviously taken from Narcissus -- who thinks her life is perfect until she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her with her best friend Shiva. She realizes that beyond the glam, money and handsome lover, she's a lonely soul.
This simple synopsis tries to go deeper by making social commentaries about abortion, cohabitation and a superficial life. But like Narsih's life, unfortunately the script only touched the surface.
Perhaps the main problem was that the show tried to be funny without paying greater attention to the interesting premises they had thrown in. Thus the stage was crowded with performers pushing their comedic limit.
As Narcissi's boyfriend Dr. Fauzy, Uli Herdinansyah was miscast. He kept shouting annoyingly in English and acting senselessly. Sarah Sechan, who is always delightful to behold, clearly wasn't showing her broad talent in playing Shiva. For instance, the scene at her father's grave is unnecessary and tedious.
Even the show's leading lady Takako Leen, who should have been the strongest character, couldn't take the story anywhere. The biggest mistake was that her character is neither likable nor believable.
It's not the stars' fault, really. Clearly the script is the weakest link in the show. Although succeeding in throwing out some witty lines, overall it lacks the content to hold them all together and can't convince the audience that this tale could actually take place.
Not to mention, the forced ending -- which resolves Narcissi's seemingly complex problems all too easily upon her father's advice -- just added to the whole fiasco. It was just too bad that an entertaining urban comedy a la Arisan! the movie, which could have been the case here, simply didn't happen.
Then there are the dances, which looked like accessories stuck on to the story like they had to be there just because they had to be there. The dances didn't tell a story on their own or reinforce the show. So instead of rooting for the dances, the feeling was that they weren't important at all -- a letdown for a show by a generally lauded dance company.
However, the audience was lucky in the amazing supporting cast. Ira Duaty, for example, shines throughout her brief scene as Narcissi's Javanese mother, impeccably capturing the essence of the character. A middle-aged mother hopes the best for her daughter, which of course equals a perfect husband.
Ira is witty without overdoing it, sings a Javanese song with such style that this scene alone is likely to be remembered as the best act of the entire show. It is a pity we didn't see more of her for the rest of the performance.
Casting directors out there should take heed: sign up this amazing performer for your next piece. She'd make the show.
Another great character is Dr. Fauzy's pregnant nurse, carried single-handedly by EKI's Helen Irawati, who's flirty, slutty and funny at the same time. Given her talent and best lines of the script, she gave the show a breath of fresh air and drew the biggest laughs from the audience. Oh, don't we all love campy characters.
We also fall for Tan Kok Siong and Lilies, who respectively portrayed Loro and Blonyo so comically that the audience was always looking for them even when they were not around. Mocking each other, they were able to engage effortlessly in a battle of wits with their strong body language. Hands down, they were one of the show's scene-stealers.
It should also be noted that EKI did a great job with the set design. The GKJ's small stage was turned into an apartment's bedroom, a posh living room, an art gallery and a cemetery using minimal props effectively in paying attention to the little details to illustrate a bigger existence.
Vanity mirrors in Narcissi's apartment reflected narcissism and vanity while the lighting played around with Narcissi metaphorically, showing her looking for a ray of light in the darkness that is her life. Ironically, unlike the dances, the set was an essential element of the production.
But in the end, a good show is not only about the set design or supporting roles. It takes other components to make it a spectacle that lasts in memory. Unfortunately, Miss Kadaluwarsa just didn't have what it takes. With nips and tucks here and there, EKI is certain to make a big bang in their future productions.
And when the time comes, I'll be the first in line.