By KENNETH CHAW
If your loved ones die having never said that they love you, would you think that they loved you?”
That was the question posed by award-winning director Mark Beau de Silva during a recent phone interview with Star2.
At that, a chill shot through my spine and I knew right away that there was more to the play than what its title suggested.
Set in a small quiet town, Paper House revolves around two brothers, Kim (Roax Tan) and Yen (Douglas Wong), who inherited their late father’s Chinese prayer paraphernalia shop – otherwise known as “paper house” in Chinese.
While Yen stays behind to look after the shop, Kim has built a comfortable life for himself in the city and only returns once a year for his father’s death anniversary prayers.
On one such occasion, just as Kim decides to leave town after saying his final prayers, the brothers stumble upon a lost boy. As it was too late to bring the boy to the police station, the brothers decide to take him in for the night.
But as they were looking at the brown-skinned boy and wondering what food to give him, questions that have long plagued these brothers start to resurface.
Kim and Yen begin to question their father’s love for them. “Their father was not someone who was very expressive and so the brothers grew up wondering what their father thought of them, did he really love them or not?” de Silva explains.
The idea came about as the director wanted to put forth “how it’s like being brought up in a very traditional family where love is not expressed.”
Another conundrum the director wanted to address was how the brothers handle the lost boy. “I purposely wanted a Malay boy. If they were to find a Chinese boy, they can treat him like a son. But if they find a Malay boy, how do you deal with that? You’re a Chinese family, there’s no halal food in the house,” de Silva reasons.
This racial dilemma faced by the brothers was inspired by the director’s experience of growing up in Kulim, Kedah. In the Chinese community where de Silva was brought up, the other races were perceived as “outsiders” and hence, he states: “I wanted to put forth how my family talks about these outsiders as outsiders in the play.”
But more importantly, through the portrayal of Kim and Yen’s treatment of the boy, de Silva asks “should they be outsiders”?
By now, avid theatre-goers should be able to tell that Paper House has been staged before. Back in 2007, the play made its debut as an English-language production. However, this time around, the play will be staged in Hokkien.
De Silva, who is part-Hokkien and part-Eurasian, shares that Hokkien was the first dialect he learned as a child and has since grown accustomed to it. But when he first started out as a director in 2001, he realised that most plays were presented in English. Hence, de Silva compromised and wrote his scripts in Manglish.
“But in 2010, as I looked back and evaluated my work, I felt that if there was one thing I could change, I would make my plays more real. The characters in my play are based on my family members and they don’t speak much English,” he says.
The director’s move of translating Paper House from English to Hokkien is also attributed to Wong and Tan’s fluent command of Hokkien.
De Silva observes that when Chinese actors try to speak Shakesperean English, they often struggle with the language before even getting to the character. By translating the script to Hokkien, the dialogue will sound more natural.
So far, the director has produced Hokkien plays Big Head Potato Headand I Am Not My Pimples (and now Paper House). The plays have opened to positive reviews, so much so that de Silva won the award for Best Script (Big Head Potato Head) at the ADA Chinese Theatre Awards in 2010. But putting his achievements and recognitions aside, de Silva ultimately hopes that the audience will enjoy Paper House. “Especially the Hokkiens, I hope they get a slice of their home and their family life,” he concluded.
Paper House will be performed in Hokkien at Indicine, The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac), Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur. It will be staged at 8.30pm (today till Saturday) and at 3pm on Sunday. Tickets are priced at RM25 (adults) and RM15 (students, the disabled and TAS card members). For enquiries and reservations, call 03-4047 9000 / 2142 2009. To purchase online, visit ilassotickets.com. For more information, log on to klpac.org.