'Raj And The End Of Tragedy': People at the crossroads of living and losing

Author and lead actor Jo Kukathas (L) voiced all the characters in her play, but the ensemble of Doppo Narita, Suhaili Micheline, Ghafir Akbar and Anne James also gave them their heart and soul.

Author and lead actor Jo Kukathas (L) voiced all the characters in her play, but the ensemble of Doppo Narita, Suhaili Micheline, Ghafir Akbar and Anne James also gave them their heart and soul.

Jo Kukathas' new play for Instant Café Theatre's 25th anniversary was a raw, painful but beautiful story of lost souls and broken minds.

Versatile: Jo Kukathas (back) narrated the whole story and voiced the multiple characters effortlessly.
Jo Kukathas and Ghafir Akbar in a scene as Raj and Uncle Lingam.

My heart was racing from the start. There was something spectral about the affair, at once otherworldly and familiar. White, cuboid structures marked the dreamlike stage in perfect symmetry, like royal tombstones for the kings of old. Slowly and with menacing synchrony, five figures in black ambled out from behind the constructions. 

A heavy silence fell over the space. The trepidation in my heart grew alarmingly. It's that same feeling I get just before the rollercoaster takes its plunge. That’s exactly what the Instant Café Theatre Company’s new play, Raj And The End Of Tragedy, felt like – gripping, tumultuous, and an exhilarating journey into the deep recesses of the human mind. 

Written by Instant Café Theatre co-founder Jo Kukathas, directed by Singaporean Natalie Hennedige, and presented in association with Cake Theatrical Productions (as part of Instant Café Theatre's 25th anniversary), The End Of Tragedy follows the journey of protagonists Uncle Lingam and his nephew Raj to New York City.

Raj is quite the challenging travel companion. Raised in a troubled family with an unloving mother, he suffers from mental instability, propelling him to bouts of rage and violence, and earning him plenty of stays at Tanjung Rambutan.

The End Of Tragedy, which ran six shows in four days at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre last week, was developed from another story, Going To The Dogs, which Kukathas wrote as part of a different production, Almost True Stories, which she did with her co-actor Ghafir Akbar last year.

What makes The End Of Tragedy so riveting is that though it focuses on Raj's own tragic journey, expositions of other characters that enter his life or cross his path form an important chunk of his story. These are the people he meets at the mental asylum, on a plane, at the airport and finally in the Big Apple. And throughout the play, Kukathas peppers their tales with nuances and scenarios familiar to most Malaysians. 

This original and brilliantly written play touches on dreams, sense of belonging and the quest for greener pastures

The End Of Tragedy is a raw, daring and often painful story, but one that was beautifully executed in all its misery. Masterfully helmed by the playwright and lead actor, this was Kukathas at her grandest as a storyteller. As the voice for all the characters in her play, she segued from one character's mind into another, changing tones and inflections with fluidity and dexterity.

As Kukathas allowed the truth of her words and the vulnerability of the characters to take root, she never let herself get in the way. But like Raj, she wasn't alone in that feat. The ensemble of theatre award winners Anne James, Ghafir Akbar, Doppo Narita and Suhaili Micheline gave body, heart and soul to all the other personalities on the stage.

Their impressive physical language was a driving force of the performance – and all without a line of dialogue! As each character revealed their hopes and dreams, the audience became the keepers of those desires, and as their stories unravelled, so did their characters came undone. Witnessing one tragedy after another was indeed a heavy task. 

But before the final twist in the hour-and-45-minute long play, the audience were given a short reprieve as Raj finally reached his destination. Having lived vicariously through the lives of those he had met along the way, there at last he found his freedom from the pain, the anger and the ridicule. There in New York City, as the world came crashing down one last time, Raj reached the end of his tragedy.

It was indeed a privilege to experience this journey deep into the sometimes dark and desperate corners of the human mind. And as I left the theatre feeling liberated by the play, part of me was happy that Raj was at long last free as well.

Raj and The End of Tragedy