Theatre review: Superb sisters strike gold in Kakak Kau Punya Laki

Review Theatre

KAKAK KAU PUNYA LAKI

Teater Ekamatra/Esplanade Theatre Studio/Wednesday

Alfian Sa'at's Kakak Kau Punya Laki (Your Sister's Husband) strikes gold.

The play, in Malay with English surtitles, opened on Wednesday to a full house. The standing ovation it received bears testimony to Alfian's standing as one of Singapore's finest dramatists.

Laki is centred on the lives of the Selamat sisters. Maslindah - or Mas for short - is a jackfruit-curry-cooking purist who makes forays into the forest to look for ingredients for ulam, a traditional Malay salad. Conversely, her four sisters are globetrotting patissiers and purveyors of pavlova and panna cotta. This stark distinction between tradition and modernity creates the main conflict at the heart of the play.

Alfian utilises this conflict to provide social commentary on Singapore society, most tellingly in the depiction of Mas' love life.

In one scene, the younger Selamat sisters deliver monologues about how they found love in an attempt to convince Mas not to get hitched with her newfound beau whom they think is a con-man. On the surface, it is good advice: Fall in love only with those who are worthy. On a deeper level, it seems to be more ominous: Only those who are worthy - that is, those who have found success as defined in meritocratic terms - can fall in love.

Najib Soiman, who plays Mas, stole the show with the way he played the character, dispensing laughably naive dialogue such as "I, too, have carnal desire" with achingly honest aplomb. This was aided by a good call that director Fared Jainal made - for Najib not to overly feminise his behaviour despite playing a woman. This decision to rein in the camp struck a right note in the play.

The actresses matched Najib with an equally praiseworthy performance, though opening night jitters could be detected when some of them grappled with their lines.

One sticking point in the script is the motif of Mas' unreliable memories.

Early on, it is established that Mas' recollections of the Selamat sisters' menstrual synchrony are inaccurate and cannot be trusted. However, the play does not return to this issue of unstable reminiscence, which leaves the matter hanging and renders the audience unsure of the extent to which we are supposed to sympathise with Mas. Nevertheless, this does not mar the quality of the tragicomedy.

All in all, it is a valuable addition to Alfian's oeuvre, and a mature return to a traditional style of drama after the verbatim theatre of Cooling-Off Day (2011, 2012) and Cook A Pot Of Curry (2013).

stlife@sph.com.sg