UNMC Theatre Review: Day 2 of the One-Act Play Festival

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The second day of the Literature and Drama Society’s (LADS) annual One-Act Play Festival (OAPF) started with a buzzing crowd waiting outside the Drama Studio for doors to open, ready to be further entertained by the talents of UNMC. As with the first day, four plays were scheduled to be staged, and at 7:30pm sharp, emcee Jack Lim started off the show by announcing the first play of the night.

Wedding Invitation by Suzanne Ong

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Wedding Invitation presents to us Nurul and James, ex-lovers who reconnect through an accidental phone call two nights before James’ wedding to someone else. A short tale of the workings and challenges of an interracial relationship discussed through the phone. A tipsy James talks about the phoniness of marriage and how everything is just about seeming genuine and keeping up appearances to an annoyed and mildly distracted Nurul who’s amidst bouts of tears as she watches a particularly emotional (and relevant) K-drama.

To the audience’s amusement (especially those in the front row), we were treated to a little 4D theatre as Nurul pours wine over James’ stained wedding shirt, effectively shattering the idea that people need to appear perfect and “effortlessly happy”. Instead, be who you are.

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The play was wonderfully portrayed by the cast who convincingly embodied the emotions of their character. Even though there were only two people on stage, they did better than other plays (with a bigger ensemble and more props) in holding the audience’s attention. However, there were times when Nurul’s words were lost to me, especially when she shouts to her laptop, but I did manage to piece things back together by the end of the play. Overall, Wedding Invitation reminds us of the emotions, mutual understanding and trust that underlies any relationship and that every one of them, successful or not, will leave an impression on us.

Cast:

Afiqah Izzati Azhar as Nurul
Lucian Chua as James

Time by Julia Katrina

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“Time should not be meddled with!”, says TK (short for Time Keeper, his street name if you will) as Maya learns the hard way that time waits for no one. Time tells the tale of Maya and Anya, two best friends whose relationship is time-tested when Maya receives the ability to pause and rewind time — “kind of like Dr. Strange…” as TK describes. The play deals with themes of friendship, trust and even depression. As Maya’s life improves through her time manipulation, Anya’s spirals into darkness as she is unable to seek help being disconnected from her best friend.

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TK, a majestic sight in white, was a hit with the audience, maintaining order over the temporal plane with his booming voice and unexpected sass. He left the audience pondering over the moral that time is relative, and maybe we should not be focusing on how much or how little of it we have. Perhaps, the point would have been stronger if TK held a little more gravitas throughout the play or if stagehands had not distracted the audience with large “you can’t see me” signs pinned on their backs. On the other hand, kudos to Syamila Abu Bakar for portraying Anya’s struggle with depression so convincingly, and to her and Hayani Ishan for playing best friends so naturally. Overall, Time covered most of the emotional spectrum; funny, heart-warming and sad. I do feel that the play would have benefited from a simpler staging, but the funny characters and happy ending made it enjoyable just the same.

Cast:

Hanida Hayani Ishan as Maya
Syamila Abu Bakar as Anya
Khairul Anuar Jamaludin as Time Keeper
Muhammad Amry Ependi as Marc
Ayaka Terauchi Ms. Tina
Chloe Lim Xin Ying as Alina
Nicholas Alexander Kelly as Anthony
Nurul Raihan Zafirah as Rebecca
Adreana Shaheera Andri as Lily

How to Write a Play in 24 Hours by Olivia Gibson

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For fans of meta-narrative, this one’s for you! How to Write a Play in 24 Hours tells the tale of Octavia, an eccentric, dramatic writer as she struggles to, well, write a one-act play in 24 hours. With the help of her friends Simeon and Veeda, they imagine how a mobster play, complete with music from The Godfather and Italian accents would play out — terribly is their answer. So, they try a dramatic play instead. They imagine a heated power-play between Bo and his demons who is present on stage in the form of Scarlet.

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A tongue-in-cheek look at the process the playwright went through, How to Write a Play in 24 Hours strikes that delicate balance in being self-aware and poking fun at itself without being self-indulgent. The cast even breaks into song at one point, with Simeon and Octavia singing ‘Anything You Can Do’ from the musical Annie Get Your Gun as they try to prove their merits, but caught themselves before they outplayed the idea, which made it thoroughly entertaining for me.

The play was well-performed, especially by the three main characters, who showed the multi-faceted sides to a friendship that I am sure most of us can relate to (we all have friends who Octavia, Simeon and Veeda reminds us of) and the audience had no qualms laughing along with the cast. The only issue I had with this play was that transitions could have been quicker to keep the overall pace tighter.

Cast:

Nafisa Tabassum as Octavia
Lucian Chua as Simeon
Eugenie Tan as Veeda
Chris Mathews Jacob as Bo/Mobster 1
Lhavanya Dharmalingam as Scarlet/Mobster 2
Muhammad Nasrullah Mohd Aslam as Mob Boss

Coffee in the Living Room by Johann Cheong, co-directed with Puteri Yasmin Suraya

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The festival organisers saved the best for last with Coffee in the Living Room. This play is based on the playwright’s personal experience with death. It is about two sisters, Lydia and Julia and their spouses Sam and Tim, as they edge closer and closer to daybreak — the moment they’ve chosen to euthanize their father. From frustration to somber calm, we follow along as the play dives head first into discussing the inevitability of death.

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As I watched, I couldn’t help but notice the varying stages of grief embodied by the characters; anger, denial, bargaining and acceptance. Most of these can be seen in Lydia as her character progresses through the play to finally accept the impending death of her father. The script did a great job in telling the stories of each of the characters, even the pointedly absent third sister Karen, while delicately balancing the dichotomous relationship of life and death. The stage direction was ripe with covert symbolism and the actors did the script justice, especially considering how difficult the emotions they had to portray are. It was hard not to be impressed by their performance.  It’s not easy to talk about death, especially euthanasia, but Coffee in the Living Room and its small cast of four made it seem effortless.

Cast:

Wong Jo-yen as Lydia
Anas Yamin as Sam
Malik Hisyam Zaihan as Tim
Andrea Chong Xin Xuan as Julia

The One-Act Play Festival gave audience members a little taste of everything. Having the festival in the Drama Studio differed from last year’s edition held in the Great Hall meant that seating was much more limited this time around. On the bright side, it created a much more intimate atmosphere, which is not a bad thing. Though the lighting rigs in the Drama Studio are far from ideal, I think LADS did a good job with the technical aspect this year, creating a unique setting for each play.

It was particularly exciting to see the growth of not only the performing arts, but theatre culture in general here in UNMC. If the performances put on this year is any indication, the arts scene on campus will only get better. Congratulations to all involved!

Write-up by Neda Al-Asedi, photographs by Shazlyn Izura

Writer, feminist, theatre enthusiast, but most importantly a purveyor of the importance of performing arts, from dance to spoken word and all in between.

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