The struggle to fit in and belong is not something uncommon to many of us.
Finding an identity in a multiracial and multicultural country like ours can be tricky. And no one knows this better than Ruth de Souza, the protagonist in local playwright Mark Beau de Silva’s Stories For Amah which opens on June 27 at KLPac’s Pentas 2 in Kuala Lumpur.
Directed by Joe Hasham, the 75-minute play, which was first staged in 2002 at the former The Actors Studio (TAS) Box in Dataran Merdeka, features Datuk Faridah Merican, 79, Ho Lee Ching, 28, Anrie Too, 36, Michael Chen 37, Grace Ng, 33, Kennedy John Michael, 48, Nabilah Hamid, 29, Nicole Kiew, 20, Chrystal Foo, 19, Benedict Chin, 26 and Ng Ke Lynn, 20.
In the play, Ruth (Ho) is a young Serani (Eurasian) woman who is split between two worlds. Growing up, she could not have felt more Chinese from the upbringing on her mother’s (Too) side.
But all that was dashed when her family moved to Kuala Lumpur and her Eurasian identity was imposed upon her by her father (Michael).
The one person she felt the most like herself with was her maternal grandmother, her Amah (Faridah), and it was this one person that she rarely sees after relocating. Unfortunately, Amah eventually dies, leaving Ruth without an anchor as she tries to make a living, albeit unsuccessfully in the big city.
One night, Ruth, feeling overwhelmed, shares everything with her dead grandmother, telling her about all that has happened to her – the good, the bad and the ugly.
“Ruth never got a chance to share her stories with Amah. This is the only time when she’s doing it as she needs to get all these stories out of her system to be able to come to terms with her past and her family because only then is she able to find her true self ... it’s almost like an emotional purging,” explains Ho, KLPac’s actor-in-residence.
Like her character, Ho, whose stage credit includes Thunderstorm (2017), Dato’ Seri (2016), Sisa-Sisa (2015) and The Taste Of Water (2015), says she knows what it means to be different.
“I may not be a ‘lain-lain’ girl but I sure know what’s it like growing up being lain,” adds Ho, referring to her Tourette Syndrome ( a neurological disorder characterised by involuntary movements and sounds).
Stories For Amah is based on de Silva’s own experiences of being a young Serani man living in KL. The only person he was closest with, his grandmother, had long since passed away.
“I was raised Chinese and I felt Chinese until my Eurasian father told me I’m not Chinese at all. And of course, being called and labelled as ‘lain-lain’ didn’t help either. So there was all these conflicts and questions about my identity,” says de Silva, 40, calling the play a love letter to his late grandmother.
De Silva’s other plays include Sisa-Sisa (2016), Big Head Potato Head (2010) and Bottom Top (2008).
Hasham, who directed the 2002 staging of Stories For Amah, reveals that the play “grabbed me from the very first line and after reading it, I wept. It’s such a wonderful piece of writing that’s got humour and there are moments where it rips your heart out. It’s like someone saying ‘here I am, naked’.”
Hasham believes the play is still relevant today as it was 19 years ago. The issues it tries to tackle (identity, a sense of belonging, familial problems) are timeless.
“Face to face communications between people ... genuine communication, has unfortunately been replaced with communication via the screen of mobile devices. If anything, this play will remind them the importance of communication, especially in a family,” says Hasham.
Stories For Amah was written, almost accidentally, when de Silva was at the lowest in his life. As a 20-year-old he tried to make it big in the KL theatre scene but failed.
“I was starting to feel if I made the wrong decision. Nothing was working out. I was going to give it all up. Then one night, when I was still staying at my aunt’s apartment, I remember coming back from work and feeling this overwhelming urge to cry.
“I needed to say something and I started telling about all that was going on in my life to my grandmother. I didn’t even plan to say it to her but somehow it happened and I just started writing,” recalls de Silva, who then submitted the script for TAS’s Malaysian Playwrights Series.
“This search for identity and race didn’t matter to Amah. There I was trying to find out who I am and she was like every other grandmother. They don’t really care how you want to define yourself. They love you as you are and I think that’s what Ruth’s looking for – love,” concludes de Silva.
Stories For Amah plays at Pentas 2, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah in KL from June 27-30. Showtimes: June 27-29 (8.30pm) & June 29 & 30 (3pm) Tickets: RM60 & RM40 (concession). More info: www.klpac.org.