Director Khalid Salleh’s play explores the idea of trickery in society, and intriguingly, in this setting, he chooses the blind community.
When was the last time someone played a trick on you?
There you were, unassuming and gullible, falling into the inconspicuous trap laid out so perfectly before you.
Just as the situation turns awry (for you), your friends burst out laughing to your utter horror.
Then it dawns on you that the whole affair had been an elaborate trick. What do you do at that moment? Looking sheepish would be the predominant expression.
Taking a stab at that approach is Khalid Salleh’s Teater Kena Main, which opened at Istana Budaya (IB), Kuala Lumpur last Friday.
The impressive ensemble includes the likes of Sabri Yunus, Eman Manan, Ebby Saiful, Sani Sudin, Aida Othman, Mohd Rodhi Mohd Noor, Azizah Mahzan, Azman Hassan and a special appearance by Fauziah Nawi.
From the get-go, the play, first staged in 1994 at Universiti Sains Malaysia and again in 1998 at the Malaysian Tourism Centre in Kuala Lumpur, underlines the premise of kena main (getting tricked).
The play opens to a scene many of us are accustomed to – a street salesmen peddling his wares. The charismatic man (played by Sabri Yunus) has his briefcase propped open on the road, filled with all kinds of bottles, purposely displayed to attract the attention of passers-by. A curious crowd has already gathered around him.
With his eloquence and charm, he orates the miraculous benefits of the medicines he sells, ambling back and forth in an attempt to keep the crowd engaged.
Whether his products work or are even legitimate, no one knows. But more often than not, one cannot take the word of such salesman. They may very well be lying, manipulating you to think that their product is good. Yes, snake oil salesman.
Of course, there will always be one or two gullible people who will end up purchasing the products.
This sets the tone for the actual play, revolving around blind street musicians Jusuh, Daud and Mona (played by Ebby, Sani and Aida, respectively).
For the first half an hour or so, the trio is seen sitting at their regular performance haunt, talking about life, people and music. While it is endearing to watch the exchanges between the characters, nothing much happens.
A big stage like IB’s Panggung Sari necessitates a succession of movements and actions, especially from the lead actors. You don’t need the 4th of July to explode on the stage every few seconds but it would help for the lead characters to move about. At the very least, the scene could have been shortened. The massive space simply consumes the actors.
However, the play picks up after the introduction of the main trickster, drug addict Mat Pit (Mohd Rodhi). The character immediately rattles the sanguine and placid setting the blind performers are accustomed to.
Taking advantage of Jusuh and Daud’s absence, Mat Pit concocts a plan to threaten Mona about her dark secret (she has run away from home) and extort money from her. Just then, Pie (Eman), another blind performer, walks into the scene.
Mat Pit watches carefully, like a serpent, not making a sound. Noticing Pie’s presence, Mona taps her walking stick on the floor and he responds with even more tapping. It is their form of Morse code. Pie helplessly roams about, trying to capture Mat Pit, but fails.
Mohd Rodhi was simply amazing to watch. Without overplaying the role of the drug addict, the actor used his physicality to make the character stand out, having a certain bounce and ghetto swagger. His comedic timing was also precise, eliciting rapturous laughter from the audience.
Pie and Jusuh then play a trick on Daud, convincing him to turn himself over to the police for helping Mona escape. While Daud trembles in fear, Pie and Jusuh try their best to control their laughter.
What’s best is how the characters are clueless as they go about playing their parts, and how that ignorance translates to comedy for the audience.
The play ends just like it began, with the street salesman selling his products using the gift of the gab, reminding the audience that one can either be the trickster or the victim, and this cycle is unremitting. The question is, which one are you?
■ Teater Kena Main will be on at the Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur until April 5. Doors open at 8.30pm. Tickets are priced at RM35, RM55, RM85, RM105 and RM155. For ticketing information, visit redtix.airasia.com.