THE IRON BED: A Scene from Garin Nugroho's theater piece The Iron Bed, Which based on his film Opera Jawa. (JP/Blontank Poer)
Directing a play is much like directing a movie, as shown by noted filmmaker Garin Nugroho with his theatrical piece The Iron Bed, an opera based on his film Opera Jawa, the Javanese Opera.
The play, his first after a 20-year absence from the theater, will be staged during Zurcher Theater Spektakel, an art festival in Zurich, Switzerland, this Aug. 18-21.
Theater troupes, dancers, musicians and video artists from 40 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa will take part in the event.
"I was asked to present Opera Jawa in the form of theatrical performance. So I reworked it into a play," Garin told The Jakarta Post after the play's recent premier at the Great Theater Hall of the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) in Surakarta, Central Java.
The Iron Bed is a portrait of an animal and human struggle. Just like Opera Jawa, the 90-minute production is adapted from the epic Ramayana, focusing on Sinta, who attracts the attention of Rama and Rahwana.
For Garin, the world is formed by two extremities: the appearance of holy men who act like animals, and animal behaviors that are human-like.
And the bed serves as a witness to how animal behaviors are often demonstrated by holier-than-thou figures, while on the other side, animal instincts are disguised beneath human masks.
The opera centers on Siti (played by Astri Kusuma Wardani), a beautiful woman who is married to Setio (Martinus Miroto), a traveling preacher. In their married life, the couple are often disturbed by a gangster named Ludiro (Eko Supriyanto).
The housewife routine has the graceful and elegant Siti spending most of her time in bed or doing housework, allowing Ludiro, who always comes in disguise as a respected knight, to seduce her. Before long, she surrenders to him.
The conflict becomes more complicated when a monkey, which always accompanies Setio, falls in love with Ludiro's sister (played by musician Titi Sjuman).
The monkey, which sniffs out the Siti-Ludiro affair, is trapped in his own obsession, between loyalty to his boss and his own desire to have Ludiro's beautiful sister.
Throughout the four-scene opera, Garin manages to present a captivating performance.
A sense of realism is conveyed through the iron bed and wardrobe combined with a set of drums on stage, as well as several installations such as a kukusan (conical woven bamboo kitchen utensil).
The play itself has a linear story structure, like the performing pattern of langendriyan -- the classical Javanese opera, combined with the wayang orang traditional theater, allowing the audience to easily digest the story.