On the bright side of life

Art April 18, 2016 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to

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The Thai tradaptation of “Every Brilliant Thing” is back in Bangkok in the middle of its Thailand tour



“Chiwit di di”, based on British playwright Duncan Macmillan and comedian Jonny Donahoe’s play “Every Brilliant Thing”, premiered at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts in late February and was part of Burapha Music and Performing Arts International Festival last month in Bang Saen. It was also staged at Chiang Mai University earlier this month.
Three professional actors, namely an actress in her mid 40s Sumontha Suanpholrat, an actor in his early 30s Konthorn Taecholarn and a gay actor in his mid 20s Panuwat Inthawat, are taking turns narrating the story in female, male and gay versions. Each reminds him or herself, and the audience, of the value of living with a list of brilliant things that have happened since his/her mother first contemplated suicide when the narrator was just seven years old. While the core of the story is the same, many contexts have been changed in accordance with gender and age though many members of the audience still get to read these brilliant things out loud during the performance.
“Chiwit di di” is an interactive theatre piece in which collective imagination is key – the house lights are fully on, there are no sets on stage and the performer looks right into the audience’s eyes and take us through his life experience. The sole narrator also asks some audience members to portray important people in his or her life – dad, life partner, primary school teacher who talked through her sock dog, a university professor who taught Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther” as well as a vet who put a childhood dog to death, introducing the idea of loss. 
Reflecting on her experience from performances in Bangkok and Bang Saen, Sumontha says: “Despite a stage experience of more than two decades, I was quite nervous with the audience participation part at first. The audience never attended our rehearsals so I never knew what would happen! It has turned out to be a truly special experience. Talking directly to them, listening to what they say, impromptu, and then responding accordingly and naturally may sound very simple, but in a society where many of us spend most of our heads down and eyes on smartphone screens, communicating via social media, this human-to-human direct communication is remarkable. Many audience members have said that attending this play is like listening to a friend’s story.” 
Konthorn adds: “The play has considerably changed my views on life and living. Many younger friends called me and sent me messages via Line, saying ‘I have depression’, ‘I am bi-polar’, ‘I used to contemplate suicide’. These real-life innuendos are much more serious than what happened in the play. I’m now doing more research on these issues to make sure I can do my best, both on the stage and in real life.”
Panuwat notes: “During our first run in Bangkok, I witnessed a grandpa kissing a grandma’s cheek, some teenagers sobbing while thinking of their childhood, a married couple looking at each other when an entry in the ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ list reads ‘conversation’. Earlier this month, I performed this play outdoors for the first time at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, battling the heat as well as the noise from planes taking off. I thought the audience’s reaction would be less than that in Bangkok when we’re in the theatre, but I was wrong. An audience member said it’s ‘brilliant’; another asked ‘Are you from Chiang Mai? Your northern dialect is better than mine’; another ‘Is this your own story?’ and yet another ‘The whole experience encourages me to reconsider certain details in my life: it’s life-affirming’. I then realised how strong an impact the play has on the audience.”
On the other side of the coin, in his review published in Season magazine IATC Thailand’s honorary president Kittisak Suwanaphokin, who watched three versions of the play in one day, wrote, “Among the three performers’ special skills is their friendliness. And because of this, the audience is willing to perform with them and we do our best. Panuwat’s gay approach cracks much laughter and Konthorn knows how to entertain his audience. After watching both of them, I was thinking about going home and coming back to watch Sumontha in April. But then my curiosity kicked in and, walking back into Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts for the third time in one day, I was wondering what else she could do differently from her two male counterparts.” 
Kittisak comments on the actress who has never been known for comedy, “Hers was completely different: she was so realistic that the audience was in complete silence at many moments. Among the three, she’s the closest to the original script and her inner realism helped make the jokes even funnier.” 
 
The list continues
“Every Brilliant Thing” (Thailand tour version) is from tomorrow to Saturday at Chulalongkorn University’s Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts, a 10-minute walk from BTS Siam, exit 6. 
It’s in Thai with English surtitles.
The performance starts at 7.30pm and there’s a 2pm matinee on Saturday. 
Tickets are Bt 600 (Bt 300 for students) at (081) 559 7152. For more details, Facebook.com/DramaArtsChula.
- The play will be at Mahasarakham University on April 25 and 26, Khon Kaen University from May 12 to 14, and Vic Hua Hin on November 25 and 26.