The Glass Menagerie @penangpac – Don’t Miss It! Last Chance.

I just returned from seeing the classic Tennessee Williams piece “The Glass Menagerie,” – one of only three performances as a special penangpac production.

Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t miss this show!

  1. Marina Tan! Marina played the matriarch Amanda Wingfield, giving a stunning performance. The nuances, the playful southern accent, the command of the stage – the depth of the character, who on the surface seems so one-dimensional, was brought to life by this terrific performance by Tan. I’ve seen Marina in many wonderful performances in the past, but she was more than up to the challenge for this meaty role. Tremendous!
  2. The direction. American actor and director Christopher Presslar did an admirable job with the entire splendid cast. The direction was playful and relaxed, with terrific spatial features which showed the distance between the characters. The minimalist set worked very well. The pace moved quickly, but Presslar’s touch allowed the necessary quiet moments to properly pace the scenes very effectively. I was also very appreciative of the decision to not try and adapt this piece to a Malaysian setting, but let the words of Williams and his universal themes to speak for themselves. I do become tired of adaptations which changes the original script to better suit a local audience. I’m so glad this wasn’t the case. It was St. Louis 1937, as it should be.
  3. The set. I love going to shows to see how the production decides to tackle. With a combination of raised platforms, LCD projectors, fog machines, period music, and a terrific lighting plan, the set brought the play alive in all the correct ways. The focused facial lighting, the backlighting, the soft hues, the smoky feel – all of it created a wonderful atmosphere for theatre.

And lastly, I know this is four, but I have to mention Williams’ script. It’s great to see and hear a modern classic on the stage. It doesn’t happen that often, especially in my part of the world, so it is treat.

Don’t miss the final performance @penanagpac, Saturday Sept 24, 8:30 pm.

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Theatre Review: Slow Sound of Snow

I was able to catch the Iranian drama troupe perform the experimental dramatic piece “Slow Sound of Snow” as part of the 2016 Georgetown Festival.

The story (if you call it that) takes place in a small shack with a slanted floor, huddled underneath a treacherous mountain cliff which is in danger of producing an avalanche. Any loud noise might be enough to set if off. During this particular winter, a pregnant woman has to give birth and the husband, along with his mother and grandfather, have to weigh the pros and cons and figure out what to do since having a crying newborn would threaten their actual existence.

It’s a scenario and setting which has enough meat on its bones to produce an engaging story. However, the execution of this piece was lacking. But before I break it down, that statement isn’t exactly true. I have no doubt of the talent of the actors. The concentration that they had to display was considerable. I also don’t doubt the talent of the director, who was good at emphasizing small details.

The problem I had with this piece is the same problem I have with so many other modern theatre pieces – they simply do not engage the audience in good storytelling.

The “Slow Sound of Snow” is much more of an actor’s exercise rather than an enjoyable night out at the theatre.

So this review is all about the genre that so many modern playwrights and directors decide to plop themselves into. This performance made me think of this post that I had rather recently re-posted because the same topics keep coming up again and again. People are hungry for stories, and modern theatre hasn’t done a good job of providing engaging and entertaining stories. Television has really become the place to tell stories. Look up what Kevin Spacey said about stories when he started his connection with Netflix. Theatre has so much potential to bring entertainment and exhilaration to live audiences, but I rarely experience that, even though I’m a regular theatre go-er.

This show was literally and incredibly slow moving. It was purposely written that way. The first 20 minutes of the show literally nothing happened. Hardly anything was said. It was a series of minimal movements. And yes, I got the situation after the first two minutes, I didn’t need to see another 15 minutes before anything remotely engaging happened.

As I said before, this was an exercise for actors. A good one at that. Impressive concentration and an interesting set. (Though the wolf was a little bizarre.)

If you are in to the strange style of modern experimental theatre then I recommend seeing “The Slow Sound of Snow” when it comes through your part of the world. It has garnered a lot of awards.

If you like theatre for strong storytelling, engaging characters, and an enjoyable night out on the town, you may want to skip this one.

“Shear Madness” Malaysia in Penang

I had a fun time catching “Shear Madness” Malaysia at the Penang Performing Arts Centre last night.

“Shear Madness” is the crowd-interactive, smash comedy-whodunit which has been performed in many countries around the world. Producers Gardner and Wife brought the piece to Malaysia, and they had two runs in KL before bringing it to Penang for a very limited 3 show run.

The cast was fabulous, fun, funny, and gifted. The problem with the show here in Penang had little to do with the production which was top-notch. It had to do with a familiar Penang issue – the lack of people in the audience.

On their opening night in Penang, there were probably 80 people in the audience, which is a shame. “Shear Madness” is definitely the kind of script which would benefit greatly from a large, rowdy audience. The actors who are to interact with the audience in helping them solve the murder were sometimes pulling teeth to get audience participation. They played their roles well and rolled with the punches no matter what an audience member said or didn’t say. But this show needs the synergy between the performers and the paying customers to take it to the next level. Unfortunately, in notoriously tight-waded Penang, it didn’t happen. Tickets were 60 RM each, which feels like a lot for Penang. For a high quality production like this, it’s the equivalent of $18 USD – a pittance.

This performance was uniquely adapted to the Malaysian crowd, with local language thrown in, unique Malay-Chinese-English accents, and lots and lots of jokes about Malaysian politics and government. It also has a twist ending which I can’t tell you about, but it was unexpected, even making me want to go see it again.

So Penangites, get used to spending some money to enjoy top quality theatre! If we don’t, it won’t come back.

And if you get a chance to see Shear Madness (only 1  day left in Penang) somewhere in the world, please check it out. You’ll definitely have a good time.

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Theatre Review: “In a Nutty Shell”

One of the essential requirements of a free, open, and democratic society is the ability to laugh at oneself. Theatre-goers have been party to government critiques and satire for as long as actors have dared to portray their version of reality on stage. There is something cathartic and even wholesome to be able to laugh at stereotypes and paint with broad strokes in order to see oneself and a society-at-large in a new light.

Recently I was chatting with someone in the theatre scene in Malaysia (but not connected to this production) and this person said that Malaysia has long wanted to follow America in laughing at their leaders, in exposing criticism through laughter, and just having the ability to lighten up and not take each other so seriously.

That is exactly what “In a Nutty Shell” accomplishes so well.

I’m not conversant in Bahasa Malay, Chinese, or Tamil, but that did not distract me from seeing the wonderfully distinct ethnic groups and stereotypes displayed on stage. The entire play takes place in a mamak coffee stall with three friends – Chinese, Malay, and Indian – chatting about life in Malaysia on a typical Friday morning.

The dialogue is funny and poignant. (If you are not Malaysia, you may want to bone-up on Malaysia’s political scene. Get to know your abbreviations: BN, MCA, MIC, etc…) It’s like listening in on the secret thoughts of the three most prominent races in Malaysia. Through the complaining about the “lazy Malays”, the “rich Chinese”, or the uniquely different Indians, the audience begins to get a clearer view of this richly diverse yet fragilely held together country. As the Chinese man said: “everyone tolerates because they have to.”

That may very well be the case, but one gets the sense by watching the wonderful interaction between the three main actors on stage that there is much more camaraderie and country pride present than is readily admitted.

And this is, perhaps, the point. Malaysia is a beautiful cross-section of religion, ethnicity, and culture. It has existed that way for a long time, and while it is not without problems, it has created a beautiful mosaic in the midst of Southeast Asia. If only the groups themselves would look past differences and see the potential of its vibrant and lovely people.

“In a Nutty Shell” finishes its debut run in Penang tomorrow (Sunday, August 17) at PenangPAC (Straits Quay) 3PM.

If you are in town, please stop in a for a great laugh and a little lesson on Malaysian life.


Theatre Review: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit in Malaysia

I checked out the relatively new play, “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimmanpour at the Malaysian debut at the Penang Performing Arts Centre. The play has been produced around the world since its release in 2010 and it is currently being performed in Washington D.C. among other places. The genre is clearly in the camp of Theatre of the Absurd, so if you like a succinct plot and gripping storyline then this play is not for us. It was, however, an interesting theatre experience.

What’s the catch? The actor has never seen the script prior to the show. The night I watched it, the actor received the a sealed envelope with the script in it the moment he entered onto stage. He is, of course, as curious as the audience as to what might come next. After opening the envelope, he begins to read the script, which is, in a way, a personal letter of sorts from the playwright in Iran who has not been granted permission to travel out of the country because he has refused to complete military service.

What follows is a bizarre mix of improv, audience participation, and even an actor-appointed stenographer who is supposed to email the playwright a photo of the performance – his email, after all, is in the script.

As interesting and unique as the script is, from the audience’s perspective, whether it is an enjoyable night or not clearly depends on the talent and creativity of the actor who performs it blindly. A master of improv could have a whale of a time with it. Someone with impersonation skills would also do well. The actor I saw was clearly a little intimidated by the material, unsure how to get the audience clearly invested in the play which seems to be a crucial aspect of the script.

But Soleimmanpour is clearly making some statements about Iran and society conformity. It allows the audience to think though the meaning of many of the silly aspects of the play.

If you get a chance to see it, I recommend you checking it out IF you can tolerate the abstract.