BWW Review: TEATER KELILING's THE GREAT RAHWANA Finds Its Own Greatness
Despite its title, TEATER KELILING's THE GREAT RAHWANA focuses more on razzle-dazzle moments than consistently developing the titular character's duality. Yet the resulting extravaganza offers its own greatness.
THE GREAT RAHWANA ran for four shows on September 21-22 at the CIPUTRA ARTPRENEUR theater, Jakarta. It was the latest offering of TEATER KELILING, a community theatre that has been active since 1974 and boasting more than 1,600 performances. This time, TEATER KELILING collaborates with event organizer company KREASI IMAJI MAHESA.
THE GREAT RAHWANA has two set of cast: Pancasona - reviewed here - and Candrasa.
The story to THE GREAT RAHWANA is adapted from the novel RAHWANA PUTIH by Sri Teddy Rusdy, with the script penned by Dolfry Inda Suri and Aldiansyah Azura. TEATER KELILING veteran Rudolf Puspa serves as the director.
After a lengthy introduction, the grand red curtain parts open; the stage was filled to the brim with dancers clad in white. Rama (Bayu Permana) and Sinta (Sabrina Hannah) stood in the center, frozen in embrace. The music starts with a distinctly Javanese sound, with heavy gamelan use and the accompanying traditional dance steps.
Then, the orchestration switched gears. A bassline, drums, strings, and more joined the fray and gave the song a contemporary twist. This mixture of the modern and the traditional is indicative of what's to come.
The story unfolds at Rama and Sinta's exile from their kingdom of Ayodya. When Rama and his brother Lesmana (Rizky Andri) are off on a hunt, Rahwana (Erik Lasmono) comes in a disguise and takes her to his kingdom of rakshasas: the Kingdom of Alengkadiraja.
The script vastly expands on Rahwana's many attempts to win Sinta's heart. He consults with his siblings: the jolly and glutinous Kumbakarna (Fajrin Yuristian), the gentle Wibisana (Imam Alfarabhy), and the flirty primadonna Sarpakenaka (Greta Ariati).
He's also assigned his sister Trijata (Brenda Laurentia) to accompany and comfort Sinta, alongside four other comedic retainers (played by Melia Mifathul, Haliza Zahrah, Namira Elastica, and Patricia Cecilia). They told Sinta of Rahwana's past, presented in flashbacks.
One day, the monkey king Anoman (Fadlurahman Pratama) sneaks into the garden Sinta's in and gives her a ring, symbolizing Rama's promise to get her out. As Hanuman escapes from the guards, the ensuing fight wrecks the prized garden - angering Rahwana who takes it as an attack on his kingdom.
The two sides clash. After a series of fierce skirmishes, Kumbakarna and Sarpakenaka fell. At long last, Rama faces against Rahwana and trade a series of blows. As in the legend, Rama shoots one final arrow that pierces Rahwana and kills the rakshasa.
As Rahwana lies dying, Sinta comes to his side. She declares that even after living more than a decade Rahwana has never laid a finger on her; his love was noble and true.
THE GREAT RAHWANA aims to show another side of Rahwana and his family. In this regard, the show undoubtedly accomplishes its goal. But it was not without making several compromises.
Erik Lasmono's Rahwana is tender, gentle, and just slightly awkward, another side to the dutiful king who longs for love. The scenes in which he tries to woo Sinta with flowers, poems, and praises are both funny and endearing.
However, the duality of Rahwana is not fully realized; the romantic side to the character takes prominence over his might as the King of Rakshasas. The amount of time dedicated to the supporting characters also took away from the main character, a glaring issue for a show titled THE GREAT RAHWANA.
A deeper examination of this inherent contrast between these two sides would have made Rahwana a meatier role. Erik did show the charisma in the few scenes where he had to be imposing; it was unfortunate that he did not get to truly explore his full capacity.
Playing opposite Erik, Sabrina Hannah's take on Sinta was a mature and graceful one, especially considering that she's still in highschool. The actress started off bumpy, with stilted delivery for some lines, but eased into her character as the show goes. By the end, her monologue upon Rahwana's dead body was striking and powerful.
Of Rahwana's family, only Trijata and Sarpakenaka got substantial roles. The latter, in particular, had a few lengthy scenes in which she flirts with the male retainers of Alengkadiraja. In this version, she's practically worshiped as the men run over each other to spend time with her.
Greta Ariati conquered the role fearlessly. Her Sarpakenaka relishes on being the center of attention with her big personality, drawing countless laughter from the audience. The improvised lines she delivered with such ease are the cherry on top.
As a whole, the show is very generous with the comedy scenes. Whole scenes are dedicated to draw laughs from the audience; other than Sarpakenaka's playgirl antics, Sinta's four retainers (collectively known as the Mbok) are also sources of much the show's humor.
If one enjoys loud, slapstick, and sometimes absurdist humor, the scenes with four Mboks should please. Although they can get a bit too much and a bit repetitive (sometimes less is more), but the actresses were always full of energy and enjoyed their parts very much that it was hard not to cheer for them.
Though THE GREAT RAHWANA also had dramatic scenes as the plot demands, the disconnect between the serious and comedic parts becomes its own detriment. Oftentimes, watching the show was like watching two shows: a retelling of Ramayana with orthodox trappings of Indonesian theatre, and a laugh-out-loud comedy piece with bits of improv thrown in.
This also extends to the dialogue, as the script of the comedy parts utilize modern lingo and contemporary characterization, while the dramatic parts are more typical of a Ramayana performance. Even Sarpakenaka seemed to have lost her comedic edge during the dramatically-inclined scenes. Should the work gets reworked in the future, reconciling these two disparate aspects would make for a more tonally consistent piece of literature.
As an original musical, THE GREAT RAHWANA has one of the most impressive musical scores (arranged by Afdhal Dzikri and directed by Ferdian Patra). The numbers draw both from traditional music and contemporary show tunes (especially the pop sounds of Alan Menken) to great effect. There's also a rap segment thrown in for good measure.
But as a musical, the execution also depends on the cast's vocal ability. The main cast are mostly solid, with Rahwana and Sinta being the most consistent. The ensemble are more uneven overall, with some performers not fully delivering.
The one stand-out is Brenda Laurentia, the actress playing Trijata. Her solo song (an ode to Rahwana's one-sided love) was a show stopper, with such vocal power and technique that entranced the whole theatre.
THE GREAT RAHWANA also makes use of surprisingly diverse dance styles (choreographed by Edo Prima). Traditional Javanese and contemporary modern dance are to be expected, but the show also includes fan dance and a bit of simple acrobatics. This is a very welcome touch that's still rare to be found in the local theater community scene.
Not to be outdone, Gema Nur's fight choreography is satisfyingly real and intense. TEATER KELILING included real martial artists and martial art students in the show as 'fighters' and their prowess shined through. The climactic fight scene was especially impressive to watch; the soldiers fighting in pairs all over the stage truly brought the war engagement to life.
For a show with kings, princes, and demigods aplenty, the costumes (managed by Heny Fadilah and Yaya MATW) and make up (managed by Shantalia Paulina) definitely do them justice. They are regal and tastefully designed for each character.
THE GREAT RAHWANA mostly forgoes traditional set design and uses projected backgrounds in their place. As an emerging trend on Broadway, it doesn't seem so jarring, but having only one, flat, rectangular screen can make it feel like an oversized presentation at times.
Although the graphic design is serviceable for the most part (certain songs have mood-setting animations instead, similar to concerts), the lighting spills onto the screen and makes it appear washed out. But other than this overlooked mishap, the lighting properly supports the show's moments.
TEATER KELILING and Rudolf Puspa's vast experience has, without a doubt, given THE GREAT RAHWANA its own unique identity. By blending in different forms of entertainment, dances, and songs, THE GREAT RAHWANA is not your typical musical. It is an extravagant experience filled with lots of laughs, though not with its shortcomings.
THE GREAT RAHWANA is a testament to TEATER KELILING's ability to adapt and evolve for more than 40 years and, as the tale of Rahmayana has endured for centuries, TEATER KELILING for many more years to come.