This is my second time watching a play in person! Kindly take my review with a pinch of salt given my novice status.
As the sun set and the stars began to shine on the drive to Sentul, it felt like the perfect Saturday to watch a play. After spending about 15 minutes looking for parking around the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) (what’s new), I excitedly made my way down to Pentas 2 to watch the localised version of Irish dramartist Brian Friel’s ‘Philadelphia Here I Come!’ presented by The Actors Studio (TAS) adapted by Joe Hasham.
Upon entering the venue, there was already a line of theatre-lovers waiting at the stage doors, hoping to get a good seat to enjoy the show. People from all walks of life, some with a glass of red wine or a can of beer in hand, were excitedly chatting away in anticipation of the play we were all about to witness. It was very interesting to observe the people in the line as some were all decked out in gorgeous silk dresses and high heels while others displayed a more casual fit of jeans and a tank. Honestly, it was just a stunning sight to behold - the way theatre is able to unite people of varying personalities and experiences. We were all there for one thing and one thing only - to celebrate the beauty of performing arts in the local scene.
The play commenced at 8pm on the dot as the lights dimmed to a near-blackout where you could only make out silhouettes of the people around. The crowd was completely hushed. Pin-drop silence. The excitement could be felt radiating across the room. The lights on the stage then shone brightly, revealing an adorable set that was split in two - 1) The dining room with a kitchen and a baby staircase that leads to the “upstairs” of the house and 2) Danny “Danny Boy” Tan’s bedroom. The play had begun.
The story revolves around typical middle-class, 28-year-old Danny Tan, who feels stuck in a lifeless routine as he lives in his childhood bedroom with his widowed father and Mak Cik Esah. Danny is offered a position to work in a hotel in Philadelphia, 21 hours away from home, by his aunt Sherry. The play navigates through the internal monologue Danny has one day before he takes flight to Philadelphia, reminiscing his relationship with his tight-lipped father, his cheeky Mak Cik, his crumbled love life and his questionable friends.
The plot was extremely gripping and I was thoroughly entertained throughout the duration of the play. The writing was beautiful. I found the communication between each character to be akin to poetry. The choice of words for each character was very in-line with their personalities. The conversations were interesting and provided sufficient context to accurately portray the tone of the scene. There was not a dull moment with bits of humour and ridicule injected in between the heavier scenes. The build-up of the plot - from the deafening silent meals between Danny and his father to the “final meal” the two had together at 2am was incredible. It was truly the perfect parallel. “Meals at the dinner table” was a fantastic touch and is the perfect symbolism to have included in a Malaysian adaptation of theatre. Although the final conversation between Danny and his father may seem brief and normal to every day passers-by, the writing ensured that the audience knew that these few unpredictably spoken words were a BIG deal. It was done very well.
The idea of “public” Danny i.e. the Danny everyone sees and “private” Danny i.e. Danny’s thoughts, feelings and pure raw emotion, was the most realistic portrayal of an every day human being I have seen. The writing truly gave us an insight into how evil, deceiving and conniving our internal mind can be while also being our biggest supporter, best friend and lover. This plotline is probably my favourite part of the whole show simply because of how real the writing was.
Gosh, what can I say? Personally, in theatre, good writing and good acting must go hand-in-hand for one to deem it a success. And boy, this was a riot!
The acting was simply breathtaking. The two cast members who returned from the previous showings of Philadelphia Here I Come were the legendary Dato’ Dr. Faridah Merican (also Executive Producer) who played Mak Cik Esah and Patrick Teo as S.B. Tan, Danny’s father.
Dato’ Faridah has graced the Malaysian creative scene for decades and is the co-founder of The Actors Studio alongside her husband Joe Hasham. It was an honour to watch her perform as Mak Cik Esah as she played the role of a doting grandmother figure to Danny whilst keeping it real with her cheeky attitude and sharp sense of humour. Mak Cik Esah is someone who is clearly well-loved and respected in the community and is the only person who dares speak bluntly to the curt S.B. Tan. The love that Mak Cik Esah had for the Tan family was so beautifully illustrated by Dato’ Faridah’s superb acting.
One of the final scenes where Mak Cik Esah snuck some money into Danny’s coat pocket that truly hit close to home as it reminded me of my grandma who loves sneakily slipping money into my bag and other personal items (She once hid some in my make-up bag!). I had tears rolling down my cheek instantly upon witnessing that scene. Mak Cik Esah was certainly a show-stunner.
Equally as legendary is Patrick Teoh who has been with The Actors Studio for over 20 years! His experience in theatre is extremely impressive and it really shines through in his acting. Despite the very few lines S.B. Tan had in the play, he was one of the most memorable characters. Patrick Teoh perfectly depicted an uncommunicative Asian father who clearly wants to bond with his son, but doesn’t know how, most likely due to the lack of affection displayed by his own parents. S.B. Tan’s strict demeanour really took over the entire stage whenever he comes on to perform. All eyes would be on him. It was a great honour to see him in action.
The duo that played Danny “public” and Danny “private”, Jun Teoh and Nabil Zakaria, were a true match made in heaven. The duo had perfect chemistry and really jived as one throughout the show. Never once did I find it awkward watching two somewhat contradicting personas on stage. Every line was delivered timely and smoothly. It was a great performance!
All other supporting cast members were vital to the show as well. Everyone clearly gave their best, and the effort that was put into curating the show was evident.
I left the theatre with tear-stained cheeks and blurry eyes. I think that is more than testament as to how much I enjoyed the experience. The little bit of analysis and review provided in this article is only the tip of the iceberg of what this show entails. Please support Malaysian theatre when you can - the local talent scene is one you should not miss.
‘Philadelphia, Here I Come!’ is showing every day this week till the 17th of July. If you’re interested, do get tickets on the KLPAC's ticketing website.