Mum shines in familiar family

Farhana M. Noor in Perhiasan Kaca (above).
Farhana M. Noor in Perhiasan Kaca (above).PHOTO: TEATER KAMI



Teater Kami

Drama Centre Black Box/Last Saturday

Teater Kami's take on Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is an advertisement for reworking classics into different cultural settings.

In the hands of director Atin Amat, a tragicomedy about a dysfunctional American family becomes a tragedy about a functional and familiar Asian family.

The script was translated by Indonesian dramatist Asrul Sani, reworked for Malaysia by Mustafa Noor and the Teater Kami version rearranges the scenes into the life of a Malay family in Singapore in 1960.

In Williams' original, loosely based on his own life, the protagonist and narrator is a dreamer and poet dragged down by his mentally fragile sister and domineering mother. In the Teater Kami version, which ended its run last Saturday, cultural tropes definitively reverse the roles of hero and villain.

An American setting might celebrate the hopes of the individual over that of the family, allowing some sneaking sympathy for the son.

In an Asian setting, however, all the audience's sympathy and attention is on the mother Aminah (a fabulous Dalifah Shahril) as she strives to keep her family going in the absence of her errant husband.

Her son Taufik (Md Suhailmi Ruslan, also known as Amy Kecik) comes off as childish and unfilial in his desire to be free of his family. Aminah's admonishment to him to stay away from alcohol gains added poignancy, as does her machinations to ensure daughter Zahara (Farhana M. Noor, a sweet and fainting flower) learns some useful skills to earn a living.

Dalifah commands the stage, ably supported by the other cast members, including Norisham Osman as Johan, the man Zahara has long had feelings for. They speak their lines to perfection, aided by well-chosen props, sound and lighting.

The director is also the set and lighting designer and creates a multi-tier snapshot of nostalgia, complete with vintage magazines and old-school crockery. Lighting and sound (Siti Nur Khalidah Mohamed) are used well to create storms, a blackout and soft candlelight that heightens the hopeful romantic tension between Johan and Zahara.

The one odd spot is Taufik's final soliloquy about the sister he abandoned. In Williams' original, the speech had definite purpose, setting the final stamp on a tragedy, but in the Teater Kami version, it rings untrue.

Zahara may be as fragile as her menagerie of glass animals, but it is impossible to imagine Aminah doing anything but rolling with the punches and finding a new way for her and her daughter to fight on.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Mum shines in familiar family'. Print Edition | Subscribe