Thu, 25 May 2000

'Mad' puppeteer's reworked 'wayang' a success

By Agus Maryono

PURWOKERTO, Central Java (JP): Dalang (puppet master) Entus Susmono has been the target of endless name-calling: controversial, eccentric, unconventional, humorous, mad.

For the 34-year-old dalang from Tegal, Central Java, who loves to grow his hair long, the criticism has brought very good luck. He is sure all the mockery comes mostly from admirers. The proof: his performances always attract huge crowds.

Humor is his main appeal. This is unlike conventional dalang, who cling firmly to the storyline and the pakem (guidebook) to get the moral of the story across. People watch Entus' performances for a good laugh rather than moral lessons.

Traditional storylines from Mahabharata and Ramayana are twisted to suit the real situation. His critics call him a mad dalang because he intentionally strays from the standard wayang guidebook and relies on dirty jokes to amuse his audiences.

Entus readily accepts the criticism.

"I have my own guidebook. For me there is no such thing as a 'standard guidebook' in wayang. All the guidelines are made by man so why can't I make my own?" he told The Jakarta Post before performing at Muhammadiyah University in Purwokerto last month.

"I love freedom and I apply it in my wayang show. My obligation is to use wayang characters to voice truth and I don't feel I have to stick rigidly to the old tradition."

Entus often uses Islamic moral teachings and criticizes government officials in his shows. He argues that what he does is what people nowadays want to see and listen to.

His refusal to follow the standard guidebook also applies to music that accompanies the wayang. For example, the music that accompanies a scene of a meeting of Astina kings and aristocrats is not the conventional kabor but sholawat, a song in praise of Prophet Muhammad.

In addition to the conventional characters, Entus has introduced contemporary ones as well as products, such as Dracula, archaic people and animals, Dora Emon, Ninja Hatori, soldiers, pedicabs, motorcycles and cars.

The musical instruments are not only Javanese gamelan but also "modern" keyboard, guitar, drums, Chinese gongs and tifa. The stage is lit with a modern lighting system.

While a conventional wayang show involves about 35 musicians, Entus has 80 who present not only Javanese songs but also western genre like jazz and rock'n roll.

"In principle, I want to fulfill any requirement for music from my audience," said Entus, who has been in the business for 16 years.

Entus courageously simplifies the 11 elaborate scenes in the conventional wayang show -- from jejer (the meeting of the king and his aides) to the conclusive war -- to only four scenes.

He begins with a prologue, and jejer is optional. "In conventional wayang, this part is intricate and boring. I shorten it and make the story clear."

The prologue can be followed by the war. Jejer does not have to take place in the palace: it can be in the garden or in the forest, according to Entus.

The second scene is comedy by Cangik and Limbuk, two jovial women characters. "But in fact I don't like it because women characters are not good to convey criticism in an objective fashion," Entus said.

To enliven the show, Entus usually involves live comedy by well-known comedians or pop singers. He uses this occasion to smoke, sip coffee or joke around with the dangdut singers or comedians while he sits facing the audience -- something which is very unusual in conventional wayang shows.

Entus' third scene is the war is gara-gara (comedy featuring Semar Petruk, Gareng and Bagong), which is followed by the conclusion.

"Terse and not boring," said Entus, who starts his performance at 9 p.m and concludes at 5 a.m. and charges about Rp 20 million for each performance.

Dirty jokes

Entus learned wayang from his grandfather, Pahing, and his father Sumargodiharjo, who were well-known dalang of their times.

Pamujo, a 36-year-old teacher at Muhammadiyah University in Purwokerto, says Entus tramples on the standard guidebook.

Besides, Entus uses too much rude and dirty language. "I am really worried that if he becomes a model for other dalang, the standard guidebook will become a thing of the past," Pamujo said.

Junedi, 45, a high school teacher who loves wayang, says the popularity of a dalang like Entus will not last long because his supporters are from the lower and middle classes.

"I am sure people will get fed up with him because of his dirty language," he said.

Voicing similar skepticism was Sulistianto, a wayang lover, from Banyumas. "Entus presents the same stuff all the time," he said.

But for now, Entus is enjoying his golden days and only time will tell if his popularity lasts.