Manoa, vol. 26, no. 2 (2014): Islands of Imagination: Volume One: Modern Indonesian Plays

Presented by Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing

This collection presents seven modern plays by some of Indonesia’s most accomplished dramatists. The earliest work is from the 1930s, when predominantly Westerninfluenced plays were being staged. After Indonesia declared its independence in 1945, urban playwrights began drawing
on indigenous art forms. Under the authoritarian regimes of Presidents Soekarno and Soeharto, the theater arts were harshly censored, but by weaving together traditional and Western performance styles, playwrights defied the nationwide political repression. Four of the plays here were written in recent years, the latest in 2009, and display the experimentation and commitment to social issues that have long characterized Indonesian drama. The playwrights in Islands of Imagination, Volume One, are Rita Matu Mona, Armijn Pané, N. Riantiarno, Ratna Sarumpaet, Iwan Simatupang, Luna Vidya, and Putu Wijaya.

List of Illustrations

manoa cover 26_2Modern Indonesian Plays: An Introduction
Cobina Gillitt, vii
(excerpt from Introduction)
Early twentieth-century national theater in Indonesia, then known as the Dutch East Indies, was largely revolutionary in tone and intent, supporting the end of colonial rule. Productions were urban, performed on proscenium stages, and presented in what would be soon adopted as the Indonesian national language, rather than in one of the country’s 350 local languages. However, by the 1930s, Indonesian theater had shifted its focus away from the independence movement and toward domestic dramas and psychological realism. This modern, Western style was preferred by the first national theater academy, Cine Drama Institut (later renamed Akademi Seni Drama dan Film Indonesia, or ASDRAFI), which opened in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta in 1948, three years after Indonesia proclaimed its independence.

The primary academy training was—and continues to be—Method Acting, developed in the United States by Richard Boleslavsky, one of Stanislavski’s former students. Boleslavsky’s 1933 book, Acting: The First Six Lessons, had been translated into Indonesian by Asrul Sani. Together with Usmar Ismail, Sani founded Akademi Teater Nasional Indonesia (or ATNI) in Jakarta, the nation’s capital, in 1955.

This modern acting style focused on the internal struggle of realistic characters, frequently from the elite class, in domestic settings—so-called “living room” dramas. It was therefore the antithesis of indigenous Indonesian theater, which was characterized by music and dance and by stylistically conventional portrayals of character types, and which was based on local myths, historical legends, or ancient Indian epics.

Opening Islands of Imagination is a play representative of the style of the 1930s. Armijn Pané’s A Portrait of the Times is a living-room drama in the literal sense. The play’s four acts are set in the home of a model, Dutch-educated professional family. Trying to make their way in a struggling economy and changing society, the younger family members are faced with personal and professional decisions. A Portrait of the Times begins in the midst of a game of bridge being played by the family’s son and two of his friends. Winning and feeling in control of his life, the son is confident and optimistic. As the action unfolds, however, he becomes drawn into the misfortunes of his sister’s fiancé, Suparman. Although gender roles had begun changing in response to the struggling economy, [End Page vii] Suparman anguishes over his inability to fulfill a husband’s traditional role of provider and head of household. Unemployed, he is deeply demoralized while his fiancée, whose salary could support them both, is optimistic about the changing times.

For fifteen years after Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, declared independence in 1945, national theatrical institutes and most performance communities continued to prefer modern dramatic forms over local performance traditions, regarded as backwards and provincial. Even plays that were written by Indonesians but followed Western playwriting conventions were rarely produced, because of the bias toward European drama.

A Portrait of the Times
Armijn Pané and Michael H. Bodden, 1

No Address, No Name
Iwan Simatupang and John H. McGlynn, 25

Time Bomb
N. Riantiarno and Barbara Hatley, 51

Ought
Putu Wijaya and Cobina Gillitt, 107

The Kitchen
Luna Vidya and John H. McGlynn, 161

The Prostitute and the President
Ratna Sarumpaet and Kathy Foley, 175

Make Note!
Rita Matu Mona and Cobina Gillitt, 209

About the Contributors, 237

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