FIVE years ago, Singaporean theatre companies W!LD RICE and Checkpoint Theatre staged Huzir Sulaiman‘s The Weight of Silk on Skin. The production brought together celebrated performing arts entities Ivan Heng, Claire Wong and Huzir himself for a one-of-a-kind, all-star collaboration.
Serving as official opener at the 2011 Man Singapore Theatre Festival, The Weight of Silk on Skin went on to garner critical acclaim, nabbing two wins at The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards the year after.
This weekend, Malaysian-born Huzir will finally see his play staged in his tanah air as Singaporean theatre-maker Richard Chua and local company Monday Show Entertainment prepare the full-length monodrama with actor Dominic Lucien Luk in tow.
The Weight of Silk on Skin centers around John Au Yong, a distinguished gentleman with fine, fine taste and a preoccupation with a woman who once turned him away. Over the course of the play, John prepares to meet this mysterious person, but in doing so also recalls their painful trajectory.
Boasting lyrical, poetic language, Huzir’s script is basically about a man getting really vulnerable.
“John Au Yong has got everything he needs materially. But there’s one woman called Anna: this woman simply stays in his mind to the extent that he’s thinking of her even at home,” begins Richard Chua.
“The idea is that there must be something here; I feel that when language fails to express eloquently, then theatre must take over. You need to come into this space and spend that ninety minutes or so, and hopefully experience the strong impetus to step out and say, I want you back.”
The Weight of Silk on Skin has been staged twice to date, debuting in 2011 with Ivan Heng as John Au Yong, and then again in 2015 with Adrian Pang in the lead role.
Worth its weight in silk
Held this weekend at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre, The Weight of Silk on Skin will run for just four showings from 26 – 28 February.
“This goes out to all the people who end up rich but lonely; who get divorced and still hate their ex-husbands and ex-wives…” Richard continues sagely, “this is a show for them to purge it out.”
“At the end of the day the problem does not lie in your exes, the problem lies in you. If you don’t clear this mess, how do you expect to move on?”
Richard, who is currently attached to education institution KDU, has always been a huge fan of the script.
Enamored with Huzir’s use of language and praising the “colourful adjectives” and “idiosyncratic jumps between ideas” within the play, Richard chose to stage The Weight of Silk on Skin after listening to actor Dominic Lucien Luk read the script.
Laid out ever so precisely on paper, Huzir Sulaiman’s script has distinct formatting — riddled with curious indentations and unconventional spacing, The Weight of Silk on Skin is clearly an accomplished piece by an important Southeast Asian playwright.
As such, it’s only natural that pressure continues piling up on its sole performer.
“It’s quite a technical process,” anxiously utters Dominic.
“As an actor looking at the way Huzir has written this play, I can tell that every word is here in this way for a purpose. Paraphrasing it will throw off the alignment of the original text.”
Adamant on doing justice to a role previously undertaken by two seasoned Singaporean performers, Dominic is working hard to get everything down pat, but he is also relishing the freedom granted by Richard.
“I am nervous but I think I should be, given that there’s a lot of things to do, and not just what’s written in the text. I want to fully embrace this John Au Yong character, but there’s still a lot of decisions to make about how I want to tackle certain scenes.”
Unravelling the alpha-male
With its Malaysian premiere, Richard and team are especially keen on fleshing out the vulnerable side of the alpha-male figure in contemporary urban society.
Hoping to clue audience members into how males in society really perceive love and desire, Richard was inspired to take on the task after listening to domestic admissions from his friends.
“After a certain point in time, I’ve heard that men treat their daughters so differently from their wives. They’ve become afraid of displaying affection towards their own spouses,” confesses Richard.
By presenting The Weight of Silk on Skin to Malaysian audiences, Richard hopes that men and women in the audience will be able to learn a little bit more about the opposite sex.
Richard also wants local men to reflect on their own masculinity once they reach the theatre.
“I hope that all the guys — even though they don’t talk about it and pretend to watch TV — know that if they want personal time and space to feel vulnerable over a woman, its fine,” he muses.
“Don’t be so big man about it, don’t be so paternalistic. Because then you get angry, you hit the wall, you go out you and find other girls, you fuck them and realise they’re not the same… and all along the way you’re boosting your male ego but not actually nursing your spirit.”
But can you trust these people?
Singaporean native Richard Chua is the founder and artistic director of Little Red Shop, an arts collective which has produced many small and intimate theatre works. He is also an important presence at KDU, having played a pivotal role in the institution’s performing arts and design programming.
The last play he wrote was Generations, a script banned in Singapore for elements of incest but went on to make the Taipei Fringe Festival in 2010.
Dominic Lucien Luk meanwhile heads musical theatre company Monday Show Entertaiment and is a frequent presence in local theatre. After completing his tertiary education in the arts (which includes choral studies at the Harvard University Music Department), he’s been educating and performing around the country.
Just last year he starred in Theatrethreesixty‘s well-received six-hour epic Angels In America. The Weight of Silk on Skin however marks his first attempt at a one-man show of this scale.
Huzir Sulaiman is the wonderful man who wrote many important Malaysian plays including Atomic Jaya, Hip-hopera and Election Day, but left for Singapore in 2003. He founded Singaporean theatre company Checkpoint Theatre with the beautiful Claire Wong.
You can still spot Huzir every once in a blue moon around Kuala Lumpur; we have word that he’s around town at the moment too!
Richard believes that theatre audiences are innately voyeuristic, and Huzir’s play will give them that chance to “peek through a keyhole”.
He describes monologues like The Weight of Silk on Skin as intimate opportunities for viewers to get inside a character’s world and experience things in detail. But it can all potentially serve a bigger purpose too.
“I’ve always seen theatre as a space you can enter, spend 90 minutes, and from there perhaps work things out. I hope that through another person expressing therapeutically, everybody present can gain some sort of understanding,” he reveals.
As mentioned prior, Richard believes in the healing power of theatre, and looks at it as a place to reflect, learn, and most importantly, even heal.
“Hopefully in this journey,” he concludes, “we can see how much John has discovered from the voice in his heart, so that he can walk out and meet Anna.”
We’ll be rooting for you John Au Yong!
The Weight of Silk on Skin will run from 26 – 28 February 2016. Get tickets and other such information from Facebook and DPAC, and make sure to follow Richard Chua and Monday Show Entertainment while you’re at it!