The other night a small group of us went to see a play called “godeatgod” by local playrwright, Haresh Sharma.
On our first or second day here, Tracy handed me an eye-catching post card, and ever since then I’d been spotting them around town.
|post cards for godeatgod|
The cards quote a review from the sold-out 2002 run and describe the show as “a layered and moving exploration of power, sexuality, spirituality and survival in the post-traumatic world”. A review in the Straits Times summed up the play as “the perfect antidote to rambling or too-glib experimental theatre pieces disconnected from the flesh-and-blood of human suffering”.
As such, we thought it might also be the perfect antidote to the painful US election results.
The Necessary Stage was a pretty typical black box theatre, seating perhaps 150 people in tight rows. As we made our way to our seats, I saw the three principal actors sitting on metal chairs, mid-stage. I also noticed that at the back of the stage, a litany of headlines and “big” questions was crawling across a news ticker:
Is art a luxury?
Is there more openness now?
Once we we were seated and before the lights dimmed, the playwright, Haresh Sharma, walked onto the stage to thank the audience for coming. He spoke in a gentle voice about his motivation for the play and how he wanted, basically, to help perpetuate love and understanding in the world. He talked, too, about the importance of action and the problem of inaction. The three actors heckled him a bit while he spoke, and I got the sense that he had encouraged them to do so, to keep his monologue from drifting into sanctimony.
He also shared a letter he had written to the IRO – Inter Religious Organization – as part of his research for the play, and he read some of the responses he received – from Muslim, Catholic, Hindu and Buddhist leaders.
As he finished speaking, the lights dimmed, and a lively pop beat piped up. The three actors whipped out pairs of goofy novelty eyeglasses and began to sing, as opening credits – movie style – played on three video screens at the back of the stage.
After the “credits”, one of the actors stepped up into what turned out to be a witness stand. It became clear that he was supposed to be God, and he was on trial. He spoke very softly into a microphone as he was questioned by the counselor representing – I suppose – the human race, and there was little about the actual cross-examination to distinguish God from any cult leader:
I have done nothing wrong.
You have killed hundreds and thousands of people.
I have not killed a single soul.
Those who kill, kill in your name, under your control.
I have never told anyone to kill. If they use my name, what can I do?
A Japanese woman walked slowly onto the stage. In her expression were fatigue and grief. She talked about her husband. It seemed he was in a coma.
After she spoke, the actors took turns telling stories of heroes from their own countries. The filipino actor told the story of freedom fighter, Benigno Aquino, who was assassinated in Manilla airport as he tried to exit a plane. The Singaporean actor talked about the Tiananmen Square massacre and the courage of the young man who famously stood in front of 17 moving tanks. The Malay actress talked about the man named Amrozi, who planted the bomb in the Balinese nightclub that killed almost 200 people.
The show went on like this. The actors spoke to the audience as themselves, then to each other in various characters. The Japanese woman appeared from time to time to continue the story of her dying husband. There was a sort of discussion period in the middle where the playwright posed questions to his “panel” of actors.
It was not always clear what was scripted and what wasn’t, and I think that was ultimately the genius of the piece. My sense in the end was that nearly all of it was scripted, which made the seemingly improvised moments seem that much more clever in retrospect.