Director and playwright Noor Effendy Ibrahim has caught viewers off-guard with past plays featuring sadomasochism and cannibalism.
Even the scent of freshly cooked rice can turn sinister, as in his 1995 play Cerita Cinta, which will be restaged from Nov 1 to 4 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.
Everyday acts reveal dysfunction at the heart of domesticity in this play following Roslan (Saiful Amri Ahmad Elahi), as he interacts with members of his family, played by Dalifah Shahril, Joe Jasmi, Shafiqhah Efandi, Al Hafiz Sanusi and Kaykay Nizam.
Viewers must confront their own ideas of what is acceptable in relationships.
Effendy, 45, says: "I don't offend simply because I want to create a spectacle. I offend to reach another level of dialogue in the experience."
Cerita Cinta is one of 10 plays he wrote from 1991 to 2009, which are in his self-published book Bilik Ahmad Berdaki ($22, printed last month and available from the writer).
Esplanade programmer Fezhah Maznan says of Cerita Cinta: "There's a sense of discomfort in the play, this element of the grotesque. You see all these conflicts and incongruencies and you can't make sense of them, but that's how life is."
BOOK IT / CERITA CINTA
WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive
WHEN: Nov 1 and 2, 8pm; Nov 3, 3 and 8pm, Nov 4, 3pm
ADMISSION: $30 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
For the performance, the audience will be seated like flies on the wall around the performer. The cast will respond to sounds created live by artist Angie Seah.
Effendy will also be on stage in an unspecified capacity.
The interaction of bodies in real time and space are critical to Effendy's theatre-making process.
He himself says that he is "no wordsmith". His theatre relies less on text and more on instructions to the performers.
"I struggle with Malay, coming from a generation which is insufficiently bilingual. We have to code-switch a lot," he says, referring to the practice of moving between multiple languages in speech, "to the point where we find ourselves tripping over words and what we want to express."
He adds: "In a way, I became mute. I didn't know how to say any more using words. The body was just more free, having text was limiting."
Cerita Cinta is presented by the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay and staged by Effendy's performance collective akulah Bimbo Sakti (I Am The Magic Bimbo), which was started in 2016.
Prior to that, Effendy was artistic director of independent arts space The Substation from 2010 to 2015, and artistic director of theatre company Teater Ekamatra from 2001 to 2006.
The name, akulah Bimbo Sakti, captures his sense of play. "I'm laughing at myself," he says. "A lot of names take themselves too seriously."
His playfulness can sometimes surprise his collaborators. For the restaging of Cerita Cinta, Effendy asked actor Kaykay to lose 15kg in three months. "I was approached to play the handsome boyfriend," the 28-year-old says with a laugh. "Then he told me there's a dog in the play and I'm also playing that."
But like the rest of the cast, he trusts Effendy absolutely - a trust that the director relies on. Effendy says: "They don't necessarily understand what I want to do, but they have faith."
Why? Because "Fendy's plays have a lot of puzzle pieces", says Kaykay. "He gives the pieces to the audience too: 'Hey, this is for you also to play.'"