Teater Gandrik Returns: Yogyakarta, Central Java

Yogyakarta‘s noted theater troupe Teater Gandrik is set to return to the stage with a fresh play marking the group’s new breath of energy and spirit. With a script by noted author Ayu Utami and veteran playwright Agus Noor, the group, whose last performance was held back in 2003, is set to explore new and unique possibilities through its latest performance.

“The script allows us to make our own interpretation by blending it with Teater Gandrik’s signature style,” actor Butet Kartaredjasa said during the group’s last rehearsal at Bagong Kussudiardja Art Camp in Bantul, Yogyakarta as Tarko Sudiarno writes.

The group’s latest play, Sidang Susila (the Trial of Susila), promises to be a refreshing performance that raises criticism with a touch of humor, a style unique to Teater Gandrik known as teater sampakan.

He said the play exposed the camouflaged moral truths that the Constitution tries to enforce.

“It is the relevance and urgency that swayed Teater Gandrik to choose this particular play. Sidang Susila hints at the dark shadows of an authoritarian regime that acts under the name of morality,” Butet said.

He added the play, which will be staged in Jakarta before traveling to Yogyakarta, clearly showed the regulation of life and monopolization of the truth, while deep behind it the decay and rottenness laid hidden.

It is a bitter satire but cannot evade the shadow of fear it evokes, he said.

Through Teater Gandrik’s unique sampakan style, the play aims to touch serious issues using a fresh approach as well as new playwrights, actors and actresses.

However, old and famous faces like Susila Nugroho, Butet, Heru Kesawa Murti, Jaduk Ferianto and Jujuk Prabowo are still actively involved in the performance.

Sidang Susila begins with the impact of the enforcement of the Law on Decency on the public. In the play, those believed to have violated decency are arrested by the authorities, including Susila, who is played by veteran actor Susilo Nugroho.

The play then centers on Susila, who is put behind bars, powerless, by the state authorities.
Susila is accused of “committing” pornography for bearing his large “breasts” in public, therefore violating the new law passed by the political elite. In fact, he is only a poor hawker of children’s toys and has committed no wrong.

The arresting officer in the play ignores Susila’s claims that he is in fact a man, and that his chest is enlarged due to a tumor.

Susila is then incarcerated and tried. It is here that the rulers act arbitrarily.

The official interrogation report is made by force and the court proceedings are directed to cater to the rulers’ wishes.

It is during the trial of Susila that there are critical and refreshing dialogues from veteran actors like Heru Kesawa Murti (the judge), Whani Darmawan (the lady prosecutor) and Butet (the attorney).

“In Soeharto’s times, people were encouraged to amass wealth. Today, in Susilo’s era, people are encouraged to prioritize decency,” Susila said, referring to Soeharto, the country’s former ruler, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the current President.

Here, the pun is intended — where the name Susila literally means “decency”.

Sidang Susila by Teater Gandrik
Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center
Jl. Cikini Raya, no 71, Central Jakarta
Feb. 22-23, at 8 p.m.
Phone: 021-3563780

Concert Hall Taman Budaya Yogyakarta
Ndalem Tejokusuman, Jl. KH Wahid Hasyim, Yogyakarta
March 7-8, at 8 p.m.
Phone: 0274 450363