Teater Ekamatra's year-end show takes on science-fiction twist

Drag queen Becca d’Bus will be one of the performers in Teater Ekamatra's upcoming production, Paradise. -- PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA
Drag queen Becca d’Bus will be one of the performers in Teater Ekamatra's upcoming production, Paradise. -- PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA
Munah Bagharib will be one of the performers in Teater Ekamatra's upcoming production, Paradise. -- PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA
Munah Bagharib will be one of the performers in Teater Ekamatra's upcoming production, Paradise. -- PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA

There is just something about Singapore's utopian pursuits that lends the country well to dystopian storylines.

This is the case for Teater Ekamatra's upcoming production, Paradise, which is set in a post-apocalyptic, mysterious city named Kesamet (or not so mysterious, if you read between the lines).

The 1½-hour English-language production, with its strong science-fiction bent, was written by playwright Zizi Azah and will run at the Drama Centre Black Box from Thursday to Sunday.

At first glance, Kesamet is a shimmering oasis after an apocalyptic nightmare - you can gain happiness by popping a pill; energy, food and water are all renewable; and people get to choose everything, even when they want to die.

One of the apocalypse's survivors, Dan, works in a factory that manufactures the life-sustaining Orgone energy, under the leadership of a benevolent dictator, Sinan. Dan has strange, haunting visions and his life is about to change.

The new-agey Orgone energy, proposed by 20th-century Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, is a sort of "life force" that was popular in the 1960s and now widely dismissed as junk science.

Zizi, 34, tells Life!: "A lot of it came out of sexuality, that feeling of oneness with the world. But I took from it the idea of - what if we are able to manifest something that is self-sustaining? If we could self-sustain in every way, we wouldn't need the world, we could just keep going. What is the value of a world that can keep on going?"

She is currently based in the United States, where her set designer husband, Izmir Iqbal, is doing his master's degree at the Yale School of Drama.

She enrolled in a few classes at Yale University earlier this year that prompted her to think about the play: "One of the classes I took was a bioethics course. That brought up a lot of questions of personhood and where the ethical lines that define a person are. That's part of what the play is about - it's a question of the value of existence or the meaning of existence."

The play brings together a diverse group of performers.

Actor Crispian Chan plays Dan. Rounding off the cast are Munah Bagharib of YouTube comedy duo Munah & Hirzi; performer and drag queen Becca d'Bus; actress Jean Toh, who is part of Chinese-language Nine Years Theatre's Ensemble Project; and The Finger Players resident artist and puppeteer Ang Hui Bin.

Director Rizman Putra, 36, who is also a performance artist and musician, is delighted with the eclectic cast, saying that he is "interested in working with oddball characters" in order to "create a new dynamic".

He says the first thing that came to mind when he read the script was the post-apocalyptic horror TV series The Walking Dead, which takes place in a world overwhelmed by flesh-eating zombies.

"It was very exciting to work on. The script came in one act at a time, so we would be rehearsing it and we would anticipate the next act, like waiting for the next season. We would imagine things about the characters," he says.

And while science-fiction is a rare genre on the Singapore theatre stage, Zizi and Rizman hope they will be able to create a tangible world that the audience can relate to.

Rizman says: "I think it's natural for Singaporeans to get interested in this sort of story. We're fascinated by the future.

"Most Singaporeans tend to be negative about the future, so this story is perfect - it questions what paradise really is."