Last Friday night I was treated to a night at the theatre by our new sister sister school, Bakti Mulyar 400! It was an unforgettable experience. The play, called ‘Bila Malam Bertambah Malam’ (When The Night Gets Even Darker),
was held at the Salihara Teatre which according to the website “travel.aol.com/travel-guide/asia/indonesia/jakarta/teater-salihara-nightlife-detail-713436”
is “…an important place in Indonesia’s recent democratic struggle and was formed by journalists, artists and intellectual figures in response to the government’s decision to ban the highly respected news magazine, Tempo, in 1994. Performances put on at the theater are wide and varied and include plays, concerts, dance and film, as well as lectures and discussions on art, culture and philosophy. Opportunities are also provided for both traditional and contemporary artists. The theater has an intimate feel to it and accommodates only up to 252 people in the audience, meaning you are very close to the action. You can find the theater in the south Jakarta suburb of Pasar Minggu”
The playwright was the very well known I Gusti Ngurah Putu Wijaya, better known simply as Putu Wijaya. He originally comes from Tabanan, Bali, but has lived in Jakarta where he originally worked as a journalist at Tempo since his university days in Jogjakarta. Putu Wijaya (b. 11 April, 1944) has had a very impressive literary career. He has published over 30 novels, 40 plays, 100 short stories and thousands of essays, articles, screen plays and television dramas. HIs works have been translated into Japanese, Thai, Arabic & English. (source Wikipedia)
The play I saw was set in Bali which apparently is typical of his work. The character names included “Gusti’, ‘Nyoman’, ‘Wayan’ all names only given to someone of Balinese descent. The story line mainly centered around a high cast woman and her 2 low cast servants. The younger maid, Nyoman was a kind and patient young girl who sincerely cared about her elderly employer, Bu Gusti. Nyoman had lived in Bu Gusti’s house as her maid since she was a very young girl. Her family still lived in a remote village and had she not moved to the city to work for Bu Gusti, she wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to continue her education and for this she was very grateful. So while Nyoman genuinely cared for Ibu Gusti and had done so for many years, the old curmudgeon simply regarded Nyoman as a low cast servant. Bu Gusti eventually wore Nyoman down with her mean and suspicious nature to the point where Nyoman couldn’t take anymore and returned home to her village. Soon afterwards, Bu Gusti’s youngest son returned home from university to announce that he had fallen in love with Nyoman. While Bu Gusti was ranting and raving, refusing to give permission for the relationship to continue, Wayan, another low cast character who had also worked for Bu Gusti for many years, announced that Bu Gusti’s son was now old enough to be told the truth. Bu Gusti was horrified and pleaded with Wayan to reconsider. Wayan ignored her and confessed to the son that he, Wayan, was actually his father!
The entire play took place on a small stage which faced the graduated elevated seating of the audience. The stage was not raised at all and the front row of seats were at the same level as the stage. By the end of the play, the stage was a mess!
The props had been minimal however the character of Bu Gusti in her rages against Nyoman, had managed to throw whatever could be used as a missile and in doing so the stage was covered with clothing, confetti, paper and her long stick that she often hit Nyoman with.
After the play finished, the cast stood in a line holding hands across the stage and bowed. They then all turned and faced stage left and acknowledged the playwright, Putu Wijaya, who was sitting there. He stood to receive a very warm and enthusiastic applause from both the cast and the audience. Then the lights came on and it seemed that the entire audience slowly moved onto the stage to be photographed with either one of the actors or Putu Wijaya! As I was wearing my last set of clean clothes (which included a lacy shirt that somewhere along the way, someone had torn while ironing it) I felt significantly under dressed compared to what other members of the audience were wearing, so I remained seated. My companion, Bu Dewi, was very keen too have her photo taken with Putu Wijaya. At that point I still had no idea how well known he was and being acutely aware of how shabbily I was dressed, I encouraged her to join the queue without me! Being one of only 2 westerners in the audience, I knew that had I followed Bu Dewi to have my photo taken with Putu Wijaya, there was no way I could have done it inconspicuously!
So while Bu Dewi waited to have her photo taken with Putu Wijaya, I thoroughly enjoyed watching what was happening on the stage. The first wave of people to greet the actors were obviously friends, relatives or fellow actors because they were warmly received with a hug and the traditional cheek to cheek ‘kiss’ given in Indonesia to close friends and family. The Indonesian word for kiss is actually ‘cium’ which literally means ‘to smell’. When you put your right cheek against someone else’s right cheek in Indonesia and then repeat it with your left, instead of an air kiss (as a westerner would do), you gently inhale the scent of the person you are ‘kissing’. Members of the audience who were not known to the actors, merely received a hand shake. If the person was younger than the actor, instead of shaking their hand, they would gently grasp the actors fingers and lift the back of the actor’s hand to gently touch their own forehead. This is a widely recognised Indonesian way of showing respect to your elders. It frequently happens in schools between students and teachers and at home between children and the parents and grand parents.
Once the formalities were over, people lined up to have their photo taken with the cast. The woman furthest right in this photo played the character of Nyoman and the man holding the Balinese offering pedestal played the character of Wayan.
After all the photos were finished, we headed out of the theatre back to the car where we had to wake Pak Herman, our driver, who was asleep on the back seat of the van! On our drive home, Bu Dewi explained why Putu Wijaya is so famous which explained why she was so excited about having her photo taken with him! She then reviewed the plot to check that I had understood it all and I was so excited that I had! The entire dialogue had been in Indonesian and while there were a few local references that I did not understand and also a bit of unfamiliar vocabulary, I was stoked that the play largely used language I could follow!
A huge thank you to Dad & Anggie for helping me with the translation of “Bila Malam Bertambah Malam”!