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S’pore Fringe Fest 2015: Parental guidance is advised (Malay-Chinese content)

SINGAPORE — Did I just see a Noor Effendy Ibrahim production that had two people in a tender, loving embrace? That doesn’t lead to a chokehold? Wow.

The Malay man and his Chinese father. Photo: Shawn Danker

The Malay man and his Chinese father. Photo: Shawn Danker

SINGAPORE — Did I just see a Noor Effendy Ibrahim production that had two people in a tender, loving embrace? That doesn’t lead to a chokehold? Wow.

Under his “process space” moniker ponggurl, the theatre/performance/visual artist known for works that often disturb, with their hints of BDSM and all types of violence, explores a somewhat lighter side to human relationships with the piece The Malay Man And His Chinese Father.

Which is not to say that he’s turned into a softie — there are still a lot of things to get uncomfortable about here, of course.

Starting with its jump-at-you title, which clearly lays out the race and age power dynamics of the performance (and, if you want to read it as such, the underlying political allegory, as well. I’ll leave it to you to figure that out.). It did make a couple of folks initially uncomfortable, although as he explained post-show, it was as much a provocative nudge-wink as it was something literal: You had actor Yazid Jalil performing with Theatre For Seniors dude Michael Tan.

But there’s a third element at work, too: The spectral presence of a woman in singer-performer Asnida Daud, who’s in the wings to lend her voice to the dialogue-less heavy-duty physical performances of the two, who play out a familial scenario.

It begins with the two men facing each other in their undies, caressing each other’s faces with unabashed affection. They lock in embrace; take turns carrying each other, almost Pieta-like.

Taking up the role of obedient son, Yazid washes Tan’s body, dresses him up in his pajamas. He allows himself to be dressed by his father in a kebaya, a cross-dressing moment that, given the title’s clear framing, doesn’t come across as perverse — especially with the sad look of longing in Tan’s face. He applies lipstick on his son’s lips, who acquiesces. The son feeds him food.

But you already know there’s something a bit off in this relationship, a hang-up that involves a woman (according to the programme notes, the mother). You sense the mood turns when Yazid starts stuffing food into Tan’s mouth.

From then on, things get darker. The two repeat the same patterns, but as an evil yang to the early tender yin. It becomes a chore for the (Malay) man who throws dagger looks as he becomes helpless under his (Chinese) father’s now-controlling ways. It’s an unnerving transformation — the latter is in power and there even seems to be the slightest suggestion of attempted rape here.

In its pared-down simplicity, The Malay Man And His Chinese Father was quite something to watch. Here was a series of actions that suggested a narrative and that was stretched out so as to let the piece breathe.

Asnida’s voice was a vital element here. It didn’t matter that she was, according to Effendy, singing gibberish (but drawing from traditional elements). Her singing was commanding and evocative, and ranged from goosebump-level sublime to base guttural.

Of course, the credibility of this dialogue-less show rested on the physical performances of the two men, and Tan and Yazid were completely in the zone and completely at ease with each other. Their connection and understanding of each other’s bodies seen during the performance wasn’t just due to the preparations and rehearsals prior to the show but also because it was preceded by an intense three-hour durational performance on the same. I’m really impressed by both, and especially Tan, who debuts as a physical theatre performer after being a regular presence in more conventional dramatic productions.

For more details on the festival, visit http://www.singaporefringe.com

 

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