On the surface, ‘Kena Main’ is an hour and a half of banter and light-hearted comedic scenes, interspersed with bits of old-fashioned melodrama. It’s a somewhat breezy production that occassionally amuses, but its real appeal lies in the big names employed onstage.
Composed of veterans and long-time performers, Kena Main has a cast that fits right into Istana Budaya.
Ebby Saiful, Sani Sudin and Aida Othman play three street musicians, while Eman Manan plays a friend who makes recurring appearances. Supporting the leads are Rodhi Md. Noor, Azizah Mahzan, Azman Hassan, Sabri Yunus and Fauziah Nawi.
Kena Main tells the story of Daud, Mona and Jusuh, three blind street musicians. One day they encounter Laila and Jamil from the welfare society who want to hire them as performers for an upcoming charity event. While deciding whether or not they should go ahead with the proposal, they encounter all sorts of trickery.
Kena Main was first staged in 1992 at the MaTiC on Jalan Ampang. It is actor/writer/director Khalid Salleh’s first one-act play. There was no questioning the calibre on display; each actor was performing at his or her best. Even small cameo roles were treated with respect.
The play accurately captures a portrait of the previous generation and puts it up for view. The style of interaction and language employed by the characters are those of our parents and the version of Malaysia they lived through. In fact, the entire affair feels very Gen X.
It’s a no-nonsense delivery of a pretty straightforward story set in Kuala Lumpur that feels almost as real as it looks.
Designer Irwan Ismadi does excellent work in bringing a chunk of KL to the stage through a two-level set connected with a staircase. Little details add to the atmosphere on stage. There’s a looped projection of the twin towers and the LRT, there’s corrugated zinc on the far side of the stage denoting construction and there’s even an overflowing trashcan. All of these elements give us the impression that ‘Kena Main’ has been given a facelift to prepare it for post-1MDB Malaysia.
It has to be noted however that this staging takes quite a bit of post-show research before its nuances are unearthed. At first glance, Kena Main seems like nothing more than a comedic take on the day in the lives of three blind musicians. There’s a lot of talking and joking around; things only really start progressing in the second half.
Kena Main may have suggested darker, more human undertones in its writing but this was not immediately identifiable to viewers. As a whole, on-stage affairs were somewhat idyllic in the sense that there were happy endings for everyone we cared about though there was never a strong worry in the first place.
And this is perhaps the problem. The consequences and stakes in Kena Main can seem trivial. Without giving anything away, it felt as if all these characters on stage had problems that were too easily resolved. As such, it was a tough task trying to register a connection with any of them.
Here, physical disability is used as a source for humour rather than sympathy. While this is an interesting and uncommon angle to go for, it also limits the amount of emotional investment audiences can put into the show. If we don’t feel sorry for them, do we still feel rewarded watching them achieve their goals?
The decision to stage Kena Main in the Panggung Sari of Istana Budaya feels like a surprising one. How does a play based on a deceptively simple, dialogue-heavy script thrive in a venue as grand as this?
As the show is centered around three blind characters who mostly sit in their chairs and talk, some thought has gone into making the stage more dynamic. There’s a group of extras courtesy of Istana Budaya who play local passers-by walking across the stage every once in a while. One of them even ties her shoelaces during a scene.
While all these add to the ambiance, they can also be a fair bit distracting.
Kena Main felt like a play that would have benefited from a more intimate setting. Perhaps a lot of the original message was lost in the transfer from stage to audience, considering the size of the Panggung Sari. Furthermore, given its subject matter and execution, a full-blown international-standard theatre hall feels wrong.
Despite this, Kena Main still retains a charm that is rare; a charm that is probably sourced from the sheer joy of its performers having their friends on stage. Although whether or not the script works after it was given Wak Khalid’s directorial treatment is up for debate.
By the time the show ends in a visual full circle and the LRT in the background has made it’s umpteenth loop around KL, audiences may be left wondering who is it yang kena main. Was it Daud, who got fooled by his friends? Was it Jamil, whose handphone got stolen after agreeing to send a junkie to rehab? Or could it have been us audience members all along?
Based on this 2015 update of Kena Main, we strongly believe it’s the latter.
‘Kena Main’ ran from March 27 to April 5 at Istana Budaya.