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Review: TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK's Story of Perseverance Inspires, Both On and Off Stage

After a two-year delay, the semi-biographical production goes on stage

Review: TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK's Story of Perseverance Inspires, Both On and Off Stage

After a two-year delay, the musical monologue TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK ("Standing Tall After the Wave") by Titimangsa Foundation offers a look into the life of Inggit Garnasih, the second wife of Indonesia's founding father Soekarno. Playing the titular role, Happy Salma brings to life Inggit's heartbreak and determination, leaving us curious to learn more about her beyond her entanglement with the nation's first president.

TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK is Titimangsa Foundation's 53rd production that ran on May 20th and 21st, with a media preview on the 19th. Held through a collaboration with Bakti Budaya Djarum Foundation and Sleepbuddy, the show was originally slated to debut in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The script is adapted from Kuantar ke Gerbang ("I'll Take You to the Gate"), a semi-biographical novel by Ramadhan KH based on Inggit Garnasih's story of her meeting with Soekarno until their divorce. From 2011 until 2014, Titimangsa had previously produced and performed Monolog Inggit, another (non-musical) monologue based on the same material.

Review: TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK's Story of Perseverance Inspires, Both On and Off Stage

As for TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK, the script was written by Ratna Ayu Budhiarti, with Wawan Sofyan serving as the director. Veteran composer Dian HP wrote and directed the music, which was brought to life by Avip Priatna as the conductor alongside Jakarta Concert Orchestra and Batavia Madrigal SIngers. As the founder of Titimangsa, Happy Salma herself took on the role of producer together with Marsha Timothy as the co-producer.

TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK tells the story of Inggit Garnasih, most famously known as the second wife of Indonesia's founding father and first president, Soekarno. The monologue opens with Inggit leaving for her hometown of Bandung after her divorce with Soekarno, as the latter seeks to marry another woman who's able to bear him a biological child.

Inggit then recounts her life with Soekarno, including their first meeting and budding romance, which lead to her divorcing her then-husband; likewise, Soekarno also divorces his first wife. After Inggit marries the much-younger Soekarno, the couple lives at Inggit's parents' house in Bandung. As Soekarno is still in college, Inggit is the one to provide him with both material and emotional support.

Soekarno then graduates and starts his political career. As an outspoken and charismatic leader, the Dutch Indies government seeks to abate his influence by exiling him to various remote areas. Through these moments of turmoil, Inggit stays loyal by his side, supporting his efforts in building relations with regional activists.

Review: TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK's Story of Perseverance Inspires, Both On and Off Stage

We are also told of Inggit's family life, which includes her two adopted daughters - Ratna Djuami or Omi (Jessica Januar) and Kartika (Desak Putu Pandara Btari Patavika). As Inggit and Soekarno live as a family of four, they are visited by Fatmawati, the child of a family friend who's looking for lodging close to her school. The very same Fatmawati later becomes Soekarno's third wife.

The couple braces various romantic and personal turmoils - including the death of Inggit's mother, Amsi (Ati Sriati) - set against the background of the growing movement of national freedom, with Soekarno at the center. As the political fever rises to a crescendo, Soekarno confesses to Inggit: that he desires to marry Fatmawati and get children of his own.

Soekarno tries to reassure that he still wants Inggit as his wife and will cherish and honor her first and foremost. Yet, Inggit is quick to refute this offer. She does not want to share her husband with another woman. So, as Soekarno assumes the seat of the first Indonesian president with Fatmawati as his first lady, Inggit returns quietly to Bandung.

As a biographical monologue, the script becomes the backbone and heart of the performance. The story shines in presenting the story of Ganarsih and Soekarno, as well as the inner musings of our heroine. I believe the audience can easily understand the thought process behind Inggit's toughest decisions, as well as her internal journey from a lovestruck woman to a disillusioned wife.

Review: TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK's Story of Perseverance Inspires, Both On and Off Stage

However, I could not help but wish we could see more of Inggit's life that's not revolved around Soekarno. For example, the story behind her first and second marriages, her entrepreneurial ventures, her effort raising two children as a single mother after her divorce with Soekarno, and so on (though we did get tidbits of most of these).

Though it's perhaps understandable that the writer might wish to keep the script tightly focused on Inggit and Soekarno's marriage and separation, it does make her story feel slightly too dependent on Soekarno as an individual. As most of the available works made about Inggit are already readily about this particular subject matter, one cannot help but wonder what hidden stories and more complex, yet human, layers lied untold of her life beyond her third husband.

As a performance, TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK strikes a fine balance between historical retelling and entertainment. The monologue is interspersed with songs, either sung by the characters or a choir. The long, wave-like LED screen behind the main stage often shines with either particle effects to enhance the scene's mood or old photographs of the real people the show depicts.

The production design is quite striking; the characters are dressed in period-appropriate outfits, while the set features a constructed cubical room in the center, the aforementioned LED screen in the background, and a bunch of stump-like rocks. Inggit would weave her way through this set, though typically only standing or sitting on one of the rocks unless the scene calls for an interaction with one of the supporting characters.

The ambiance is further amplified by excellent use of lighting and haze, creating beautifully and appropriately lit scenes. Unfortunately, the overall effect is sometimes brought down by the fact that the semi-transparent screen on the backside of the central cube is set directly in front of the LED screen; when the projector shoots an image onto this screen, it clashes with the light from the LED behind. Though this is quite minor, it's still nevertheless very noticeable.

Review: TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK's Story of Perseverance Inspires, Both On and Off Stage

Of course, all aspects of the production are meant to help the actors in conveying the story. Particularly Happy Salma, who had one of the most difficult challenges in theater: portraying a real person. One whose lifetime isn't so far removed from today, in fact (the real Inggit Garnasih passed away in 1984).

Thankfully, Happy Salma was up to the task. She naturally embodied the role of Inggit, one that's full of steely determination in supporting her husband, yet could stand up to him when he sought to marry another. But also someone who's gentle and loving, who takes on two girls as her own daughters, and deeply grieved when she loses her mother.

It is apparent in the way that she carries herself. Her expression and gestures, her way of both sitting and standing, they all feel genuine and lifelike. Her voice work is clear, with hints of an accent here and there. One little note is that her delivery is sometimes just a bit stilted, which can be construed as a side-effect of delivering a very lengthy monologue with few pauses in-between. Nevertheless, it doesn't distract too much from her otherwise solid performance.

The other characters also play their part well. Though there isn't much material for them to cover, the little moments that they get are always a breath of fresh air. One thing that stood out to me the most was just how vocally impressive the supporting actors are, with songs (by Dian H.P.) that make use of their vocal strengths the most. In this regard, the supporting cast just edges out Happy Salma a little bit, even though the latter is also a great singer of her own.

In closing, TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK is a very much welcome opening act to the reopening of live theater in Indonesia. Its production is well-realized, with only minor blemishes that are easily forgiven. The cast brings their A-game and feels really happy to be back on stage. And although the story's scope is perhaps limited, it is still an inspiring, educational, and fairly entertaining show. After a 2-year break, it is perhaps just what we need to persevere and, just like its title suggests, stand tall.

Review: TEGAK SETELAH OMBAK's Story of Perseverance Inspires, Both On and Off Stage

From This Author - Rakaputra Paputungan

Rakaputra Paputungan is a Jakarta-based musical theatre aficionado who seeks to spread the love of the art form in Indonesia. Often volunteering for musical or theatrical productions, he's always... (read more about this author)

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