KUALA LUMPUR: Ghafir Akbar remembers how his family and friends had changed when he returned to Malaysia after nearly eight years in the United States, where he had completed his master’s degree in acting at Asolo Conservatory, Florida State University.
“I expected them to be the same and they expected me to be the same, too. Neither of us really knew how to negotiate these new versions of ourselves. And it became a point of a lot of arguments,” the youngest of five siblings told FMT Lifestyle.
Ghafir had also previously pursued his bachelor’s degree in theatre performance at Western Michigan University.
These lived experiences helped the 42-year-old actor-director work on Adriana Nordin Manan’s debut full-length play, “Fault Lines”, whose protagonist Shereen faces similar situations as he had.
“Adapting and encountering different cultures, making sense of it, trying to understand how much of yourself to keep and what you need to put aside to adapt… I know what that means,” said Ghafir, who moved to the US when he was 22.
Presented by Protagonist Studio, the two-hour-long play will run from Nov 16-19 at the Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre. It features Fatimah Abu Bakar, Putrina Rafie, Xavier Reminick, Reza Zainal Abidin, Sabrina Hassan, Aloeng Silalahi, and Catherine Leyow.
So, what’s it about? Shereen (Putrina) reunites with her mother (Fatimah) and other family members when they travel from KL to New York City, Shereen’s adopted home. An unexpected turn in the sweet reunion causes things to unravel as the characters face unresolved issues.
“‘Fault Lines’ is about a family of hurt people who miss each other and are reaching out to each other. They come with many questions: where did we go wrong? How can we be stronger? If I did something wrong, how can I make it better?” Adriana, 40, explained.
“This is a family that has its dysfunctions and has now entered a world that’s quite shaky. It’s about how they come to terms with finding stable ground amidst the cracks.”
In many ways, these experiences are not unfamiliar to Adriana: she, too, moved to the US in 2001 when she was 18. After just two weeks, Sept 11 happened and the subsequent war on terror, Islamophobia, and the Bush-era left an indelible mark on her.
“The Bush years made the outsider’s sense really pronounced for me. I felt very jittery and skittish. And a lot of these experiences made it into the play,” Adriana, who began working on the play in 2017, revealed.
“Fault Lines” is the latest in Ghafir’s impressive list of directing credits, which includes Rhythm in Bronze‘s “Ombak!” (2014) and the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards-winning “The Language Archive” (2016), in addition to being the associate director of “Ola Bola: The Musical”.
He has also collaborated with the likes of the Wild Rice theatre company in Singapore, where he has worked as an arts educator in addition to stints at local institutions including Aswara and Universiti Malaya.
For him, original Malaysian plays such as “Fault Lines” are rare and should be encouraged; but, sadly, many Malaysian stories “get lost in the bigger diaspora”, he opined.
“What you get is watered-down narratives. When you watch a Thai or Indonesian work, you know that’s their voice. Sometimes in Malaysia, we lose our identity in our work. Maybe the question is, what are the stories that are worth telling here?”
As for “Fault Lines”, he believes now is as good a time as ever to stage this show. “With what’s going on in Malaysian politics, particularly debates surrounding race and religion and what’s happening in the Middle East, this play resonates more powerfully,” he said in reflection.
“It’s easy to find differences in each other and not understand that these differences can bring us together.”
Nero Event Space @ PJPAC,
1 Utama Shopping Centre,
Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya,
- Nov 16-17 (Thursday & Friday) @ 8.30pm
- Nov 18 (Saturday) @ 3pm & 8.30pm
- Nov 19 (Sunday) @ 3pm
- RM75 (senior citizens and students)
- RM88 (regular price)
- RM150 (Waldorf Tickets, which will entitle supporters to a soft copy of Adriana’s essay “Fault Lines: Playwright’s Cut”)
For bookings, click here.