Hesitated a long while before getting tickets to Approaching Theatre's Malaysian Taipei-based Koh Choon Eiow's 'Chronology of Death'. 窮劇場高俊耀的《死亡纪事》. I wasn't sure if I would be comfortable with a pseudo discussion on the topics of race and religion, and Malaysia's bumiputera policies.
The topics touch on very thorny issues both in Malaysia and Singapore. However, as the play went on, I relaxed. It wasn't so much of a commentary than a reflection of plausible situations in a multi-racial multi-religious society. Ermm, somewhat akin to situations that are playing out right now in Malaysian society.
In summary, it's about two Tan brothers in Kulim, Kedah, arranging funeral rites for their suddenly-dead father and discovering he was both Taoist and Muslim, the latter portion having registered with authorities as a Muslim to facilitate a mortgage payment, arguments ensue. Islamic religious authorities got involved and prevented the burial of the father in a Chinese cemetery. Of course there was a missing body. In an interview, the playwright-director-performer clarified his position on race and religion,
Two actors- Chua Teck Yeo (蔡德耀) and the playwright himself, took on the roles of all the different characters. Flat boards of silver and gold became imaginative props. In Mandarin with English surtitles, the one-hour play was well-paced, taking the audience through the life of the late Tan Tua Yang / Hassan Tan bin Abdullah. It's not an unfamiliar story of journey from China to Nanyang in search of a better life. The younger brother asked “到底葬礼要安慰的是往生者，还是生者？” Exactly. Funeral rites comfort the living more than the dead; grandiose funeral rituals pacify the vanity of the living relatives in yet another meaningless one-up-man-ship.
I understand that this play is banned in Beijing and it took months of deliberation for MDA to approve it to be staged in Singapore, but only if there was a post-show dialogue held. We stayed for that. The play didn't seek to apportion blame. It explored the relationship between the two brothers, as well as their respective relationships with their deceased father. The play simply highlighted the real issues faced by many burials of a certain year/age because of historical baggage. And at death, if life and living were but a farcical journey.
It kinda reminded me of that one line spoken by Jaques to Duke Senior from Shakespeare's 'As You Like It'- "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."
Isn't it? The realities of life today.