Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

Jakarta, posted: Thu, August 4 2016

One never can see the thing in itself because the mind does not transcend phenomena, said the early 1900s Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc in an attempt to digest social and political issues in Indonesia.

But perhaps a collective conscience could.This is the idea suggested in Yang Fana adalah Waktu. Kita Abadi (Time is Transient. We are Eternal), the latest play by Yogyakarta-based Teater Garasi. The performance at Goethe-Institut Jakarta in Menteng, Central Jakarta, on Sunday ended the theater group’s tour in Jakarta after its premiere in Yogyakarta in June last year.The play was a work in progress that evolved from Sehabis Suara (After the Voices) premiered in 2014 as part of the honoring of the troupe’s co-founder Yudi Ahmad Tajudin with the Prince Claus Award 2013 by the Dutch embassy.Time is the final part of the trilogy of collective works that started with Je.ja.lan (The Streets) in 2008 and was followed by Tubuh Ketiga (The Third Body) in 2010.Besides Yudi as director, the artists involved in the writing of the play were Garasi’s own residents Andreas Ari Dwianto, Arsita Iswardhani, Erythrina Baskoro, Gunawan Maryanto, Muhammad Nur Qomaruddin, Naomi Srikandi, Sri Qadariatin, Ugoran Prasad and Greek-descended Vassia Valkanioti.Lighting artist Ignatius Sugiarto, visual artist Jompet Kuswidananto and music composer Yennu Ariendra also took part in bringing the play to fruition.Each artist contributed their memories, experience and knowledge to the play, creating a collage of events with monologues, their bodies and the props in multi-layered stories.Yudi said, only one fourth of the ideas were actually used in the play, which was originally unscripted. The artists, however, used the “leftovers” in their individual works such as Jompet in his installation art Order and After and Yennu in his music production.

In the play, seven actors take on various roles, each filling a part of the stage with chaotic movement and overlapping voices before calming and acting in unison; as if their collision with each other had ended their out-of-control running and brought them to a state of stability.The performance touches on post-Reformasi (reform) era social and political issues related to ideology, religions and the nation’s identity and how they affect individuals — using the narratives in Greek myths of the theater god Dionysius and the Euripides tragedy.At the center of the story is a dysfunctional family of five gathering for Idul Fitri celebrations with the mother acting as a narrator introducing the family members in a metaphorical portrait she is holding.The eldest son, Rosyid, is obsessed with the annihilation of members of the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and insists of selling his farmland to pay for his trip to Afghanistan to become a jihadist.The only daughter, Rosnah, has returned from Hong Kong where she worked as a maid, pregnant both with her dreams of becoming an actress in Jakarta and with a child out-of-wedlock with an Indonesian co-worker.The youngest, Mohamad Husen, wears a helmet with a megaphone attached to it. Mentally disturbed, he loves to recite adzan, the call to prayer for Muslims, believing that he is “high up there”.The father doesn’t speak much, preferring to hunt birds with his rifle, keeping his distance from family issues, which also include the mother’s broken kitchen sink and the slaughtering of cats in the neighborhood. The introduction of family members is made a couple of times, each time with new updates about them. On the last occasion, when the performers have their backs to the audience, the mother negates everything she has previously said.The scenes jump from one to another, with only audience members who are in the know aware that the actors are reenacting the diorama of the PKI Betrayal Museum at Lubang Buaya, East Jakarta, or the family portrait of New Order president Soeharto.Urbanism is depicted through the conversations between the driver of a public minibus and his assistant, the narrators for Rosnah’s futile attempt to become an actress and how the driver’s mother is always brought to tears upon watching people dancing.The use of props such as the costume of a grown-up Teletubbies character adorned with a Mohawk hairdo instead of an antenna, a statue wrapped in blue tarpaulin and a clapping monkey toy do not lighten the mood on stage, only adding to the cloudy mystery of the issues presented.Each fragment is allowed to pass without an end note other than people dancing or feasting, all of them with blood on their hands, transcending suffering. The small stage is used effectively with the smart use of props that do not require any unnecessary interval for resetting. The actors’ deliveries are impeccable and relatable for the audience who cannot help but respond to them eagerly. The 100-minute play ends shortly after the father shoots Husen to death – just as Agave kills her son Pentheus. As the singing voice of convicted terrorist Imam Samudra, who faced the firing squad in 2008, fades, Husen’s helmet and megaphone lifts into the air before falling with a thud against the floor.The outburst of cacophony, according to Yudi, is a reflective journey about “the interior of subjects in everyday life Indonesia” in the midst of conflicts and violence — new and latent. “There are issues left unfinished, problems without any attempts ever shown to solve them.”“As a process-based production we keep on reviewing the play, adding our new interpretation on certain issues like we did to this play which was a bit different compared to the original one. While the play last year was more on-point, this time we expect the audience to develop their own interpretation of the narratives.”— Photos By Donny Fernando