Review: ‘Sisa-Sisa’ Struggles To Unearth Moments Worth Keeping But Joe And Faridah Shine In Rare Appearance On Stage
Theatre student and actor Carmen Liao watched Sisa-Sisa last Saturday at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC). She shares her thoughts and evaluates the collection of four plays with our readers.
The stage was dark and silent, eerily complemented with ghostly white sheets draped over vintage furniture and a huge out-of-place structure in the middle that doubled as a projection screen and an audience distraction.
Structured by tacking together four short stories, Sisa-Sisa (‘remnants’ in Bahasa Malaysia) features an array of veteran actors and recognizable faces.
The compilation opens with Mark Beau de Silva‘s Three Doors which stars Faridah Merican, Douglas Wong and Ho Lee Ching. First of all, compliments to Faridah for playing the role of a mother most endearingly: from the second she walked onto the stage until her final appearance, she manages to make us sympathize with her character’s loss.
Unfortunately, the play itself is a long and wintered tale which struggles to hold the attention due to a number of issues. Despite some great moments, the script was highly predictable and could have benefited from further editing.
Furthermore, Douglas Wong’s contribution as the three sons and the late husband also needed more detailing – his portrayal of each character was rather similar in vocal quality, paired unnecessarily with an exaggerated Malaysian accent.
Following Three Doors was Blind Spot, a story about ex lovers stumbling into each other in the mall. Hanif (Aiman Ashmawar) apparently lost his son while meeting a subject of his past affection, Daniel (UiHua Cheah).
The couple goes looking for the lost child and all the while Daniel would constantly bring up their past and Hanif’s history of being sexually abused. Hanif would impatiently reject these thoughts, which eventually leads to more passive-aggressive conversation, a sudden kiss, and finally a squabble that prompts Daniel to leave and voila, a plot twist.
This was a piece that didn’t need to run for so long. It repeats itself too often and it also didn’t help that the actors seemed to slow down during this segment. Both Aiman and UiHua were strangers to their roles and could have used more research and familiarisation with their characters.
However, the awkward yet passionate chemistry between them was highly enjoyable. UiHua’s physicality was subtly stereotypical, but not enough to be offensive – which made for an interesting watch – while Aiman pulled off the conflicted persona quite well.
The third play, Joy of Solitude, was performed in mostly Mandarin, with a mix of Hokkien, Cantonese, English and Malay. Written by Dean Lundquist, it starred Douglas Wong and SiangWei, both playing the same character, Charlie, at different ages.
Joy of Solitude was entertaining, exciting and hilarious, at least for those who understood Mandarin. The English subtitles appearing on the projection screen (sourced from the original script) felt much weaker than the translated material we saw on the stage, and credit must go to the person responsible for adapting it into Mandarin.
The Mandarin script was longer and it had a punchline based on repetition which was repeated several times consistently during relevant parts of the play – a move thoroughly appreciated as it never failed to work.
Douglas and SiangWei’s energy and chemistry were off the charts; both actors were on par, neither one outshining the other, which gave clarity to their shared character. Both actors did a great job (with special mention to Douglas who we weren’t enamoured with in Three Doors) bringing out the same character at different ages.
Ending the night was Reservations, a familiar script for those who have watched Short + Sweet Theatre last year. This tale of a dementia patient and her caretaker has been modified for Sisa-Sisa – the original script calls for two women but now we have a married, heterosexual couple played by Amelia Tan and Joe Hasham.
Joe plays a man with dementia while Amelia plays his wife, who has dedicated most of her time to taking care of her husband. From the minute Joe began his scene, we were instantly taken. He was well-grounded in his character, appearing highly intriguing and committed.
One of the highlights of the night arrived in this segment, when Joe’s character re-realises he has dementia after noticing that he was wearing a coat over his pyjamas – his face crumples from a tide of heart-breaking anguish. Amelia too was natural in her performance, despite occasional moments of hesitance.
Despite that, as talented as the actors were their chemistry felt somewhat empty and limited to the surface, almost as if this stage couple knew they were being watched by a bunch of strangers in the shadows. And frankly, between Amelia and Joe, most of the attention went to Joe, creating an imbalance on the stage that carried throughout the piece.
But nitpicking aside, Jeffrey Fischer Smith‘s writing was gripping and the change of characters was fascinating to watch.
Sisa-Sisa was a show of hits and misses. The recurring themes of parenting and ageing are highly commendable, but the execution of these themes further proves that Malaysian theatre writers seem to be under the misconception that bizarre yet underwhelming plot twists plus elaborate timelines make interesting material.
The tempo of Sisa-Sisa was also too slow; almost every scene in the play had that distinguished KLPAC style of transitioning – actors slow-walking across the stage theatrically, or pausing dramatically to look in the distance.
On the other hand, brownie points for stellar enunciation as well as voice quality – a rare achievement in our growing theatre scene which still has a few too many muffled voices from mumbly actors.
All said, Sisa-Sisa was a pleasure to watch and a great opportunity for the latest generation of local theatre fans to catch veterans like Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham in action. Despite all the things that worked or didn’t work, it’s the sort of theatre that actors and writers can learn from and hopefully will inspire bolder experimentation in future theatre works.