When I wrote my previous piece in anticipation of GAYA, I ended off with the surety that SMUKI would teach us a little something about identity. And I am pleased – albeit in an unexpected way – that that was exactly what they delivered. My greatest takeaway from the production was undoubtedly their ongoing notion of losing yourself in the pursuit of something greater. And in subsequence, the introspective question that was repeated with gusto: “Is it worth it?”
In the midst of live traditional music, modern dances, adamantly conflicted characters, multiple wars and heartbreaks that revolved around ‘Hotel Oranje’, the tale of independence had certain elements that were easily relatable. On one hand, there was the ongoing struggle for self-identity and pride; on the other, the timeless battle between David and Goliath. On a whole, I’d like to congratulate the GAYA team on the execution of some wonderfully crafted moments that generated an emotion that went beyond the context of a 1945 Indonesia.
Personally, the most memorable scene was when lead characters Untung and Marko (played by Matthew Yuhico and Yan Frandiyo) unexpectedly found the latter’s parents lying dead in the aftermath of a massacre. Picture a young Marko, trying to come to terms with the tragic death of his conservative parents – accompanied by Untung, an aggressive freedom fighter trying to justify their deaths as an inevitable consequence of attaining national independence. The contrast between both character’s reactions was a converging point for pain and practicality. It was an emotionally intense moment that brought home the idea of consciously having to decide the kind of person you want to be. Perhaps this is something that would have reverberated well with the rest of the audience too; for who hasn’t gone through an identity crisis at some point?
Apart from emotional breaking points, something which admittedly seemed to underline majority of the play, another highlight was the technical juxtaposition attained during a short series of events. It started off with a strangely calming contemporary piece that portrayed the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, followed by the urgent blaring of propaganda sirens from a small TV screen that acutely took the audience by surprise. But seconds later, there was a reversion back to the comfortable expression of thought through song – which was both antithetical and anti-climatic.
Now pardon me for sounding rather morbid here, but I was pretty relieved when the play ended off on an unexpected note with the lead characters, May (played by Aishwarya Kumar) and Untung’s deaths. Instead of spoon-feeding audiences the overly done “happily ever after”, the producers left us to focus on reveling solely in the raising of the Merdeka banner. Indeed, this made the entire production seem more perceptive than idealistic, which was a refreshing change in storytelling. Kudos to their writers.
On a slightly idealistic ending note, I’d like to reiterate the universality of art in general. Although GAYA: Sang Pengibar is the untold tale of Indonesia’s quest for independence, it’s something that anyone who has ever tried to search for an identity would be able to relate to – no matter where you come from. After all, the human spirit never differs, nor does it waver.