KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – Malaysian playwright Leow Puay Tin is perhaps better known for her early scripts, from Family to Three Children. But with the support of Five Arts Centre, Leow is back at the metaphorical typewriter again, as she pens several new plays between 2019 and 2022, to be produced as readings and performances in-venue and online. The latest of these productions is Oppy and Professor Communitas, which was streamed and performed live as a reading on CloudTheatres last weekend.
Directed by Fasyali Fadzly, Oppy and Professor Communitas takes place during a weekend workshop for arts practitioners, led by an aging professor (Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri) and attended by young freelance actor Oppy (Iefiz Alaudin). The two not only differ in age, but also their mindset and motivation; Oppy loses his drive to create art and takes on a full-time office job, aimless and wandering, while the knowledgeable Prof remains passionate, constantly sharing art theory, the history of Malaysia’s performing arts scene, and his own fascinating encounters with artists over the years.
Leow’s script reflects a modern, contemporary approach towards theatre, and encapsulates the idea of a floating life, much like Oppy’s own lack of direction. The plot is practically non-existent, as the professor delivers one lengthy anecdote after another, while Oppy listens, sharing his own inner thoughts, responses, or the places his mind drifts to. It’s an approach that’s oddly familiar – who hasn’t found themselves dragged to a lecture that goes against everything they expected it to be? But perhaps this is precisely how it succeeds in getting its message across – by luring us into that same dream-like mindset, turning us into students again as we listen to this online ‘lecture’.
As the Prof, Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri does most of the heavy lifting, script-wise, with long monologues that touch on the entire spectrum of performance history. Essentially, the Prof is theatre criticism given form, as he speaks about everything from Greek tragedy’s effectiveness, to the drag scene of Malaysia past, to critiquing Malaysia’s language of ‘trade and diplomacy’, preventing the arts from ever being as revolutionary and angry as that of Indonesia’s. It’s easy to get lost in the rich stories he tells, and whether or not you catch all of it, you’ll likely walk away from this show learning at least one new fact.
On the other hand, Iefiz Alaudin as Oppy has a more whimsical character, helped by Syamsul Azhar’s trippy multimedia design. Iefiz does well to mimic voices of other characters present in the lecture, and when he begins to daydream, we get surreal scenes of him singing original songs while animated gifs and quirky backgrounds play alongside. But even while his mind wanders, even as the number of participants dwindle, we get the sense that Oppy is slowly absorbing what the Prof is saying, resistant at first but becoming aware of the possibilities there are to creating art.
The pacing of Leow’s play does border on frustrating, dragging out with its seemingly endless lecture style. In addition, the two characters almost never directly interact with each other, feeling as if they’re in two separate spaces (despite actually performing in the same room), perhaps in line with how we are meant to feel like a fellow participant in this workshop. Amidst these execution issues however, lies a genuinely interesting solution to the play’s tagline: “cari makan atau cari makna?” (‘looking for food, or looking for meaning‘). Throughout, Oppy considers why it is that he writes his script ‘The Way of Violence’, interrogating himself over its significance and the need for it.
It is the idea of ‘communitas’ that the Prof pushes for that seems to answer Oppy’s dilemma. Exemplified by an animation of a single-line drawing, each face connected by one unbroken line, the point of art is to create a shared experience that a group encounters together. After years of throwing himself into the scene, watching countless performances in both formal and informal settings, the Prof seems to have become a better man, more passionate, understanding and open-minded as he attempts to instil this same fire to the participants of his workshop, to be bold and make the art they want.
A new script from an esteemed playwright is always something to be excited for, and with Oppy and Professor Communitas, Leow Puay Tin seems to have the ideas and material for an introspective reflection on the performing arts scene of Malaysia, rich in its references and thought-provoking in concept. Considering it’s a reading, it’s a valiant effort at bringing it to life, even if all the elements don’t always translate, making it hard to see it as it was originally envisioned. Perhaps, when in-venue performances are possible again, we too can experience what the Professor speaks of, and this script can inspire us with the infinite potential of performance, once this show receives a full, live staging.
Oppy and Professor Communitas streamed from 2nd to 3rd April 2021 on Cloud Theatres. More information available here