Nauval Yazid, Contributor, Jakarta
Running a show of multiple programs poses a visual problem in itself, in the varying qualities of one program to another.
This range runs to both extremes, where one segment might be highly entertaining, while another leaves the audience wondering why it needed to be included in the first place.
Whenever such an unfortunate incident is encountered, the audience is often left with no option but to sit through and painstakingly try to grasp the whole show, until numbness settles over what was supposed to tickle our minds.
After all, how could it not tickle with a title like Love vs. Fear? Furthermore, the self-proclaimed ""pop play"" of four skits by four women playwrights had everything necessary to be a safe bet for success: Its themed centered on two emotions most people could associate with easily; it contained urban issues, comedy, straightforward drama; and most importantly, it had TV-audience-friendly celebrities who endorsed the play in roles from cameos to leads.
But when these elements did not appear consistently in every skit, one could not help feeling that Love vs. Fear was nothing but a mediocre variety show.
The fall was felt from the start. As the curtains of the Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (GKJ) went up on Monday night, clips of actors parodying gossip shows quickly ran to forgettable effect, as they did little to generate laughter or to provide a substantial introduction to the June 4 performance.
The mood altered slightly to a more relaxing one when lush jazz led into the opening skit, Lelaki Abu-abu (The Grey Man). Sadly, this moment turned out to be the best part of the show.
A debut script by Nataya, the short drama ran surprisingly thin on a somewhat promising premise: A man is afraid of making a commitment, so he gets stuck in a love triangle. To cover the lack of depth, the script played around with end rhymes.
This was entertaining for the first three minutes. But around 40 minutes later, with dialogue that went nowhere, felt forced and left almost nothing to explain about each character, the fun soon tired out.
Its two stars, VJ-turned-actor Ramon Y. Tungka and musician Maya Hasan, did not help prevent the skit from sliding further. In fact, one could not help thinking that Maya was miscast, and her emotionless delivery might have contributed to the skit being the most painful to sit through.
Thankfully, the next two gave a whiff of distinction, albeit only in the differences of their genres.
Mary Jane, penned by Mima Yusuf, is a heavy drama about the title character, a young woman who struggles to live with her once-abandoned father after her mother's death.
The skit was presented in a manner that reminded some of dramatic 1980s fragments from state-owned TVRI, complete with a single set, bantering dialogue in believable everyday language and notably, strong performances from the two leads.
As Mary Jane, Nadia strutted out her act by giving the right stress to each of her lines. Topping her was Verdi Solaiman, last seen in Jakarta Undercover, who was transformed into an old man as Mary Jane's father and carried out his part by sitting on a couch. But his vocal prowess excelled beyond his halted movements and lent a tender touch to his otherwise dislikable character.
In contrast to Mary Jane was Resti's Kenapa Ryan Berubah? (Why Did Ryan Change?), a comical skit about a father worried about his son's sudden exploration of homosexuality. Inspired by wayang kulit (shadow puppet) and wayang orang (unmasked dance-drama) classical Javanese theater, most scenes were held behind three white screens, with the actors exaggerating their movement to create shadows.
Had it not been listed in the playbill, we would not have known that TV hostess Olga Lydia and starlet Adina Rasti were in the skit, although their presence was greatly reduced to less-than-stellar cameos, in keeping with wayang orang tradition.
Similarly, the playwright kept the story lightweight and trivialized the whole affair of a family at the brink of falling apart with a lot of jokes that provoked genuine laughter. Suddenly, Elton John is a household name in the gay porn industry.
Yet, the jovial mood fell again with the closing act, Lelaki Pembawa Senja (The Bringer of Sunset), a semi-surreal skit by Nazia Lutfiah.
A giant backdrop of a sunset reflected the subject of the piece, against which a nameless man spends his afternoon playing his flute in an expression of religious longing to meet God. An encounter with a nameless woman who questions his actions does not deter him.
Despite rising actor Ario Bayu (of Kala) in the leading role, his presence left nothing to desire, as he spent most of the skit with his backside to the audience while he simulated playing the flute to an audio track.
So it was up to the nameless woman, thankfully played by stage actress Dini who, despite her shrieking voice, roamed the stage and gave a slightly upbeat tone to the somber play.
It is no easy feat to stage together four different skits with four contrasting tones, and director Aji N.A. should be praised for his effort in this, even though they went nowhere near the core themes of -- what else -- love or fear.
But with any variety show, hardly anyone in the audience remembers who's who behind the scenes. All that lingers afterward is a sense ast to whether the show delivered pure entertainment or stimulated our minds to engage in some serious thinking.
Without succeeding in either Love vs. Fear left behind a wish for a more satisfying production next time around.