Gavin Yap was just 18 when he moved to the United States to study psychology and theatre. Later on, he furthered his studies in performance arts in London. In many ways, the experience of living abroad shaped his young adulthood.
“I didn’t really feel that I entirely fit in here,” shares the 42-year-old filmmaker/actor/director.
Seven years later, he returned to Malaysia but resettling was not easy, according to Yap, who will be touring the US from April 30 to May 19 for TerryandTheCuz’s Made In America, previously known as Thicker Than Water.
“There was a struggle to figure out what my place was here. There was the question of what is home.”
So when he stumbled upon Malaysian playwright Jit Murad’s Gold Rain And Hailstones (Gold Rain) two years ago, a play that deals with themes of coming home, fitting in and figuring out one’s identity, Yap was fixated.
“By the time I got to the end of the play, I was struck by how much I really identified with all the characters. I could already see the play in my head,” recounts Yap, who read Gold Rain in Jit Murad Plays, an anthology of the playwright’s works which was published in 2017.
Next month, theatregoers will get to see Yap’s adaptation of this poignantly comedic play Gold Rain, which was Jit’s debut play.
Presented by Instant Cafe Theatre (ICT), Gold Rain, which runs for nearly two hours, opens at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) on March 1 and features actors Sharifah Amani, 32, Redza Minhat, 38, Ghafir Akbar, 37, and Farah Rani, 32.
The play was originally staged in 1993, featuring Jit and Lin Jaafar and was helmed by Dramalab co-founder Datuk Zahim Albakri. It was last restaged by the same theatre team in KL in 2006.
Gold Rain is about Amy, Nina, Jay and Man who returned to Malaysia after studying abroad for some years. Amy is the last to return, having stayed overseas for nearly a decade. As the friends reconnect, they begin to reminisce about their experiences and how their lives have changed since they returned.
“In Malaysia Baru, we are still wondering about the hujan emas elsewhere and the hujan batu of home. Over the last 10 to 20 years, many Malaysians have emigrated and many more think about leaving,” says Jo Kukathas, 56, ICT’s co-founder. “But last year, many chose to return or at least return home to vote (in GE14). Home is hailstones yet we choose to remain,” she adds.
Farah, who plays the character Amy, says that she had a similar experience as Yap’s. Having lived in New York for several years before returning home, Farah remembers that she had an emotional reaction when she first read the play.
“This idea of not feeling like you belong and seeking your identity ... everybody feels that. For whatever reason, all of us would have felt at some point that we don’t fit in and there’s this question of where is our place then?” says Farah.
“And what’s brilliant about this play is that each of the characters have a very specific way of trying to find their place and that’s something anyone can identify with,” says Farah, who also appeared in ICT’s Nadirah (2009) and Parah (2011).
Yap, who received the National Arts Awards (Anugerah Seni Negara) for directing in 2006, says though the play was written and set in the 1990s, the experiences remain the same.
“These conversations are still happening today. The vocabulary may have evolved but the conversation itself is still the same,” he mentions.
“The show’s setting in the 1990s gives us a unique opportunity to examine what has changed, how much has changed and how little has changed. If we had set it today, we would have eliminated that,” points out Yap, whose directorial repertoire includes 4:48 Psychosis (2002) and The Homecoming (2006).
Kukathas agrees with Yap, saying “our relationship to our country, our questions about identity, the palaver over pendatang is still the conversation in every coffee shop. We remain obsessed with questions of identity.”
But both Yap and Farah were quick to point out that Gold Rain is not necessarily a critique of societal issues. It does not offer a solution to these problems despite the pertinent themes it explores.
“It’s not a show that hits you over the head with these issues. At the end of the day, Gold Rain And Hailstones is still a comedy ... but a comedy with some really touching and real moments. There’s no real message to the play but if there can be a dialogue and conversation about these things, then the play has done its job,” asserts Yap.
In the end, Yap says the play is something much simpler.
“It’s about youth and the decisions that you make in your youth without realising the weight of those decisions. When I first read the play, that’s what really resonated the most with me because I’ve been there and that’s where these characters are,” he concludes.