TWO men are sitting on a park bench beside a snowman on a chilly and lonely winter night.
Suddenly, a crowd of carollers in thick jerseys, scarves and woollen caps appear to warm the night air with their heartfelt songs.
Flakes of soap bubble “snow” fall from the roof and light glistens off the multi-faceted disco ball hanging from the top of the stage to fill the hall with an ever-changing fairyland-like winter scene.
The opening scene of Penang First Assembly of God’s (PFAOG) annual Christmas musical drama The Matriarch Story III – Chasing the Wind sets the stage well for further stunning backdrops and the unravelling of a Baba Nyonya-themed family drama set in the 1950s.
A continuation of PFAOG’s 10-year Christmas drama tradition, The Matriarch Story III is a brand new story in the same vein as but unrelated to The Matriarch Story I and II.
The troubles of the matriarch Poh Gaik or tauke soh (lady boss, played by the same actress in the previous two dramas) have only just begun when her unexpected visit to London finds son Seng Kong and daughter Mei Mei wasting their time partying instead of studying.
Back home in their grand family mansion (a set that elicited ooohs from the amazed audience), the family comprising Poh Gaik, her two sisters, and their respective husbands, decide to rid the Seng household of senile Ah Kong (grandfather) by sending him to an old folks’ home when the old man, their father, makes one too many “hearing” mistakes.
Next up, we are introduced to the matriarch’s former gardener Ah Lim and his son David (Lehvid, as pronounced in the Hokkien tongue) who suddenly meet after being separated for a long time.
They exchange stories and found that after periods of despair and wrongdoing, both have found hope in Jesus.
Back in the Seng mansion, bliss seems to reign without a forgetful old man as the women sip tea and gossip with friends.
But Poh Gaik’s husband, Tauke Seng and Seng Kong (brought back from London by his mother) are off to the racing course and Mei Mei is dating well-known playboy Raymond Wong.
The family turns frantic when during a Lantern Festival celebration, their persevering maid Ah Khee tells them Ah Kong is missing from the old folks’ home.
Though a despairing and heartbroken Ah Kong later finds peace and salvation when Ah Lim and David find him wandering in the streets, the family has still not woken up to fact that the family is falling apart.
Tauke Seng and Seng Kong are beaten up after a horse race and then Mei Mei is discovered at home with empty bottles of poison and sleeping pills after her boyfriend dumps her.
Ah Lim and David are there to help the family throughout their period of trials and in the end, even the all-powerful matriarch concedes to her need of a Saviour.
The Matriarch Story III was a spectacular presentation in terms of the artistic beauty of the sets and choreographed dances.
The Lantern Festival scene was an opportunity well used by PFAOG to show the talents of their amateur church dancers.
As there were various non-period costumes and modern moments like church kids performing This Little Light of Mine dance, the drama was not entirely faithful to the 1950s scenario but the combination flowed well.
The English-Hokkien dialogue gave a very local Penang feel to the production compared to similar Western ones commonly used by churches. The witty Hokkien rhymes from Tauke Seng especially tickled the audience who found themselves laughing at their own lives.
The 200-member amateur cast only started rehearsals in October but the script was in the works since
February, written by one of the cast members herself, Aunty Nancy, one of Poh Gaik’s gossipy friends.
A freewill offering was taken among the audience during the three show nights last weekend at Dewan Sri Pinang in Penang and a total of RM19,800.50 was collected for charity.
PFAOG administrator Molly Yeap said the drama was the result of teamwork by church members who sacrificed their time to serve for the love of God.