Remy Sylado: Bringing social
issues to the stage

REMY SYLADO: (JP/A. Junaidi)
REMY SYLADO: (JP/A. Junaidi)

Social problems, such as corruption and health issues, could be discussed through art works, including theater performances.

That is the idea of multi-talented artist Remy Sylado, who includes social issues in his theater script Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah, Bawang Bombay (Garlic, Shallot, Onion).

The script, which was inspired by local "Cinderella story" Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah, will be staged by International award-winning troupe Teater Tanah Air at Graha Bhakti Budaya theater in Taman Ismail Marzuki Cultural Park, Central Jakarta, from March 29-30.

"It's a classical story with a contemporary setting. I included current issues, such as the bird flu, in the script," Remy said last week during an interview with The Jakarta Post.

He believes the current restriction on keeping birds in backyards to curb the spread of avian influenza has no strong rationale.

Remy's concern for the prohibition of backyard fowl is depicted in the sadness of his play's protagonist character, Bawang Putih, who longs for the company of her confiscated birds.

"I don't know for sure, but I feel that a big capital is playing behind the bird flu furor. I staged this script last year, even before the health minister questioned the matter," he said, referring to a recently launched book in which Minister of Health Siti Fadilah Supari accused big foreign companies of taking advantage of bird flu cases in Indonesia.

Remy wrote the Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah, Bawang Bombay script last year and directed the first performance with a theater group from Tarakanita junior high school.

"I haven't made any changes to the script. That all depends on Jose's interpretation of my script," he said referring to Jose Rizal Manua, the director of Teater Tanah Air, who secured 19 gold medals for the theater in the World Children's Theater Festival in Germany two years ago.

In theater circles, Remy is certainly no new kid on the block. He is the founder and director of Dapur Teater, which has staged several shows here.

It is no surprise that Remy is not afraid to voice social issues, as many of his novels -- some based on historical research -- also explore social problems, with plots involving conspiracy and deception.

His literary works, such as Cau Bau Kan, Kembang Jepun and Pangeran Diponegoro (Prince Diponegoro) are examples of strong nationalism as well as multiculturalism. Cau Bau Kan was adapted to the big screen, where it was directed by Nia Dinata and won several Citra awards.

Remy's critical views are not new in literary circles. He previously worked as a journalist for Aktuil magazine, where he became known as Penyair Mbeling (the naughty poet) due to his works that deviated from the mainstream.

Remy writes quickly, completing his thick books in only a few months: Cau Bau Kan and Di Sebuah Sudut Taman (At a Park's Corner) in 1999, Kerudung Merah Kirmizi (Kirmizi's Red Veil) in 2002, Kembang Jepun and Parijs van Java (Paris of Java) in 2003 and Sam Po Kong in 2004, Boulevard de Clichy Agonia Cinta Monyet (Puppy Love on the Boulevard de Clichy) and 9 Oktober 1740, Drama Sejarah (October 9, 1740, a Historical Drama).

"I write all my works by hand. I then type them on my typewriter, not on a computer.

"If I use a computer, I feel I'm being tortured. Its very uncomfortable," Remy said.

Writing and typing his work feels more natural for Remy, who was born Yapi Panda Abdiel Tambayong in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on July 12, 1945.

Remy is currently completing the second volume of his novel Pangeran Diponegoro for Tiga Serangkai publishing company of Solo, Central Java.

He is also finishing Sel No. 23 (Cell No. 23), a novel about a boxer who was jailed due to a conspiracy, for Gramedia publishing house. Remy used Al Catraz-like Nusa Kambangan island prison in Central Java as the setting for the novel.

"I was there in 1994, interviewing the prisoners and watching the situation on the island," he said.

Remy has also written Kamus Bahasa dan Budaya Manado (Manado Language and Culture Dictionary), Bahasa Menunjukkan Bangsa (Language Reflects National Character) and 9 Dari Sepuluh Kata Bahasa Indonesia Adalah Bahasa Asing (Nine Out of Ten Indonesian Words are of Foreign Origin).

Remy's other talent is painting. Dozens of his visual pieces are displayed in his spacious home in Bogor, West Java.

"I'm a figurative painter. Some of my works have been published together with my books," he said.

Remy plans to hold a solo exhibition of his paintings in the near future.

The painter, writer and theater director is also a lecturer of cinematography at the Jakarta Arts Institute and other schools in Jakarta and Bandung.

His professions are as varied as his pens names, which include Dova Zila, Alif Danya Munsyi, Juliana C. Panda and Jubal Anak Perang Imanuel.

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