Sat, 05 Feb 2000

Teater Koma still packing them in with 'Sampek Engtay'

By Endi Aras

JAKARTA (JP): In celebration of the Lunar New Year, Teater Koma is restaging Sampek Engtay, the legendary Chinese romantic comedy centering on the concealed identity of the protagonist.

Directed by N. Riantiarno, the play opened on Tuesday and will run until Feb. 10 at Teater Tanah Airku in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah in East Jakarta.

In the latest run, Riantiarno keeps the original storyline but changes the setting to Indonesia instead of China. The narrator, Salim Bungsu, says the place is Batavia, the old name of Jakarta, and names like Glodok, Jakarta's Chinatown, are used.

The stage arrangement is predominantly red and gold with lots of Chinese ornaments. A large picture of a laughing bald, chubby bare-chested Chinese god dominates center stage. The picture brings the real "Chinese atmosphere"; jovial and full of laughs.

The impression is enforced by the cast's costumes and makeup, which gives them the appearance of real Chinese.

Like other folk theaters, the actors and actresses remain at the side of the stage together with the musicians. This allows them to communicate easily. Despite this physical proximity, Riantiarno creates irony as an actor uses a remote control whenever requesting the playing of music.

The story begins with Engtay (Sari Majid), who hails from Serang, meeting Sampek (Idris Pulungan), a man from Pandeglang, on her way to Putra Bangsa Betawi School. Sampek is accompanied by Sukiu. Engtay treats Sampek as her brother and the latter is unaware that she is a woman. Their teacher places them in the same room in the school's dormitory and they share the same bed.

Engtay considers Sampek's innocence to be folly and, loving him more and more every day, begins to run out of patience.

Unable to stand his "foolishness", Engtay eventually tells him about herself. On learning Engtay's true identity, Sampek immediately falls in love. They pledge to live together forever.

The scenes proceed freely, sometimes amusing and at other times touching. The acting and dialog are natural; good-taste humor abounds as the entire cast has fully mastered the roles they have played time and again.

Sari Majid and Idris Pulungan have played their roles since the drama was first staged by Teater Koma in 1988. The group has performed Sampek Engtay most often in its repertoire.

Sampek Engtay was banned in Medan in 1989. Several months earlier, Riantiarno was reprimanded by the State Intelligence Coordinating Body (Bakin) for featuring the Barongsai lion dance when staging the play at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta. At that time, Chinese cultural shows in public were banned by the New Order government. But the security authorities allowed Sampek Engtay after reaching a compromise with Riantiarno.

Every show was a full house and schedules were often extended.

The narrator, Salim Bungsu, is a great help for the audience in understanding the story. With his humorous storytelling style, he is able to smoothen the transition between scenes and create joyful, moving and humorous stories. He also provides behind the scenes stories to the audience.

The role of the narrator is crucial, especially because Sampek Engtay has 12 versions.

Sampek Engtay is internationally popular and Teater Koma has always been successful in every performance, which is always preluded by lion and pekingsay dances.

The key to success is the colorful concoction of dances, songs and humor, supported by appropriate costumes and makeup. Lyrics of the songs are especially meaningful, with the soulful songs particularly notable.

Riantiarno also innovated in the songs, which were arranged by Idrus Mardani with traditional musical instruments.