A KEY index of the development of modern theatre in each country is the quality, and quantity, of original plays. The fact that Thai playwrights, unlike their Asean counterparts, have never been honoured with SEA Write Awards, is partly because most of their works have never been published – a situation that’s alarming, if not shocking. It also explains why a recently published anthology of Southeast Asian plays includes a Thai play written in English by a non-professional playwright and adapted from an ancient Greek myth.
Yet we should never forget that the development of modern and contemporary Thai theatre owes a great deal to translation, tradaptation and adaptation of foreign plays. And while a rising number of Thai theatre scholars are now ignoring these works and prioritising original scripts, the audience is always curious as to what playwrights in other countries are writing about.
Having been honoured with top theatre awards in theatre capitals on both shores of the Atlantic, French playwright Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” is a domestic black comedy set in one afternoon in the living room of a mother and father whose son has severely been injured by the son of another set of parents who are visiting them. As coffee is replaced by alcohol, conversation turns into an argument not only between the two pairs of parents but also shifting from childhood to parenthood and contemporary society.
For any aspiring playwrights, this play is a prime example of how to develop a dramatic situation and to set an entire play in one time span in one location, and that’s why Roman Polanski’s film adaptation, with Oscar-winning actors, didn’t work as effectively as the original play.
Thailand’s most prolific stage director Damkerng Thitapiyasak is a master of translation, and proof is in his “Bupphakali”, his Thai tradaptation of “God of Carnage” now onstage at Thong Lor Art Space. The Thai title is already a cheekily comical wordplay as, at first glance, it appears to be a misspelling. He deftly adjusts some specific references so that this 11-year-old French play better communicates with the contemporary Thai audience. For example, while in the original, Veronique was writing about Darfur, here Uma is writing about the Rohingya. Unlike his other adaptations, he keeps many references from the original and these make the two families credible as middle-class and upper-middle class Thais.
Damkerng also reminds us that casting is one of the most important parts of the director’s job, especially in the so-called “actor’s play”, in which the four actors are onstage throughout almost the entire play. The four not only live their characters but are believable as husband and wife, as well as parents, even though only one is an actual parent in real life.
Duangjai Hiransri as writer Uma and Kamonpat Pimsarn as her wholesaler husband Witsanu may seem softer than the other pair but they never lose a battle. Kriangkrai Fookasem is arresting as lawyer Kritsana who’s so busy with the drug company case on his mobile phone that he cannot find a way to win this living room battle. Pattarasuda Anuman Rajadhon is having a ball – as are we watching her – as his wife Matthani, who says she’s working in asset management, though one has to wonder about the nature of the assets she is managing. She also delivers the funniest physical comedy moment in the play.
With the amount of laughter heard last Thursday on opening night, much credit is due to Damkerng as the director – especially when we consider that only Kriangkrai is known for his comedic skills and that Kamonpat is much better known as a sound designer and musician.
Less than a year ago, Life Theatre staged the English translation of Reza’s “LifeX3” at the same venue, and at the turn of this century, Dass Entertainment, now known as Dreambox, staged the Thai translation of her “Art”. Coupled these with two Thai translations of her contemporary, Pascal Rambert, seen here in recent years, the Thai audience is also now wondering about other contemporary French playwrights whose works might be relevant to us. Perhaps the French Embassy and the Alliance Francaise can slightly shift their focus from contemporary dance, nouveau cirque and hip hop and provide some answers soon.
THREE MORE WEEKS
“Bupphakali” continues until April 9 at Thong Lor Art Space, a short walk from BTS Thonglor station. The new entrance is right on Sukhumvit Soi 55, next to a flower stand.
It’s on from Thursday to Monday at 8pm in Thai with English surtitles. Tickets are Bt650 (Bt400 for students), at (095) 924 4555.
Find out more at “ThongLorArtSpace” Facebook and Line.