Sat, 12 Mar 2005

Koma looks back at 1978 ban in latest play

Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

Once upon a time, in 1978 to be more exact, Teater Koma staged a play about a rather dysfunctional family. The head of the family, Ario, went insane and declared himself King Dasamuka from the Ramayana epic.

Dasamuka was very controlling of his "subjects". He set up a "government department" to oversee anger. Anyone who wanted to get angry first had to obtain a license. Dasamuka also regulated the manner in which his subjects showered.

The play was seen as mocking the ruling Soeharto regime, which at the time was fending off criticism and opposition from students and the press. The play, titled Maaf, Maaf, Maaf (Sorry, Sorry, Sorry), was summarily banned by the government after playing for four days.

In a year of political turmoil, those four performances of Maaf, Maaf, Maaf drew huge audiences to the theater at the Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center in Jakarta.

To remember this moment, Teater Koma has revived the play in conjunction with the theater company's 28th anniversary on March 1.

"It seems to us that there has not been much change in the social and political conditions since 1978, when people saw our play as a catharsis for their political frustrations," director and playwright Nano Riantiarno said.

"The response of audiences to the revival will tell us whether our assumption (about a lack of change since 1978) is true or not," he said, adding that he had not made any changes to the original story.

It seems like that assumption was largely incorrect.

While the dialog must have been clever in 1978, most of the quips have lost their context 27 years later.

To some extent, Nano is right. Not much has changed since 1978; many politicians still serve themselves instead of the people.

But politicians have changed a great deal in terms of appearance and tactics. Overt violence is hardly on the menu anymore, and absolute dictatorship is no longer the style.

Therefore, a scene in which the military arrests two student activists does not have the same impact on today's audiences as it must have had in 1978, when the military would snatch student leaders off the street.

Of course, the actors did throw in some updated terms and words like "SMS" and "Sukhoi jet", drawing laughs from the audience on rehearsal night.

However, the audience could not help but notice the shining performance by veteran actor Syaiful Anwar, who played Ario, or Dasamuka. Anwar played the same role in 1978.

Sari Madjid, who played the grandmother, and Cornelia Agatha, who played the coquettish Sarpakanaka, also gave noteworthy performances.

The accompanying music by Embie C. Noer kept the audience from nodding off during the three-hour play.

Maaf, Maaf, Maaf runs until March 12 at Graha Bakti Budaya, Taman Ismail Marzuki, Central Jakarta. Tickets cost from Rp 25,000 to Rp 75,000. Ticket box: 021 5251066, 021 7350460, 021 3197325.