Joseph, the Tailor-Made Man
Posted on 27 September 2013
Touted as the most elaborate production to ever be staged in PJ Live Arts, The Tailor-Made Man retold the epic story of Old Testament Joseph, set in a stempunk Canaan/Egypt. In this adaptation, Joseph is an enthusiastic, exasperating young man — and like the bible version, he endures a trial of faith, interprets dreams, and learns that it takes patience to be part of God’s plans.
Joseph has some serious business chutzpah, and when Joseph’s petty older brothers learn he stands to inherit the family business, they have him kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Mr Potiphar purchases Joseph at a slave market, and catches him doing the accounts on the sly. Joseph is then promoted, profits grow, and things go well! Then Joseph spurns the lusty Mrs Potiphar, and she has him thrown in prison, where he expresses much anger over his hardships despite having done “the right things”. However, Joseph’s administrative skills are also seen there and he’s soon running the place. Enter fellow prisoners baker and butler, or in this production, the Finance Minister and Personal Assistant, each with strange dreams. Joseph interprets them: one will be executed and the other reinstated to power. To the latter he says, “All I ask is that you remember me.” Two years later she recommends Joseph’s talents to the Pharoah, who requires a convincing dream interpreter. Joseph’s vision helps the country weather a famine that spreads through the lands, and he becomes the Viceroy of Egypt. His father and brothers come to Egypt, begging for food, and he munificently forgives them. All the while, Joseph has lucid dreams where he interacts with an enigmatic Tailor (God, played by Darren Yeoh) who tells him that he is defined by his choices.
The Moral of the Story
Stay true to your dreams and ambitions. Keep faith and integrity even in hardship, such as when your brothers sell you into slavery, or when your boss’ wife throws you into prison for not sleeping with her. There were nice original songs (recorded, not sung live) and quite beautiful animated sequences for the dreams.
There were nice original songs (recorded, not sung live) and quite beautiful animated sequences for the dreams.
In keeping with much local/Singaporean English-language original theatre, the writing ran a bit long. The Joseph story is certainly very long and episodic, so the difficulty there is obvious. There were a lot of jokes and bits that were entertaining but not necessary, and a lot of the type of acting where you musn’t show your back to the audience and you certainly address them when making the big statements.
The Not-So-Moral of the Story
An uncomfortable moment — the three experts Pharaoh brings to intepret his dreams are a psychologist (“They’re about your sexual insecurities,”), a new-age dream expert (“We have to go to war,”), and a rather ridiculous Hindu guru. The guru proposes a series of strange rituals, says that dreams are messages from the gods, and does funny Bhangra-ish dancing to lots of laughter and wore intense face paint.
It seemed to say “Look at this caricature of Otherness — this funny person with his funny polytheist religion and his funny accent”. The Tailor-God also literally made the guru slap himself in the face. Quite off-putting when considering the largely protestant-Christian slant of this show and that protestant-Christians in the Klang Valley seem to be a mostly Chinese demographic. Is it racist? Does it contribute to a certain view of Indian people and Hinduism? Is it symptomatic of our intensely divided societies? I don’t know.
“The show could still be quite disrespectful to others who may not have been its intended audience.”
The audience laughed, so of course it’s not lah! Harmless fun what, no malice intended. In real life we don’t discriminate. Does seeing it that way make it true? They’re just doing what the writer wrote. The co-director is Indian Malaysian anyway. This view of Otherness is so academic and American! The issue is long and thorny, and this isn’t really the space for it. I’ll only say I know the team did not mean for it to come across like this to me or anyone. This show was not trying to talk about race, or change art or society or any of that stuff that “high art” is “supposed” to do. But the show could still be quite disrespectful to others who may not have been its intended audience.
The Spirit Behind the Story
Recent dialogues and experiences in KL and Singapore have made me question how I define professional theatre. The most useful way, of course, is to ask, “Are they getting paid?” but in our increasingly profit-sharing driven world, it’s hard to make that work. Some companies pay actors as little as RM 300-400 for two months of work. I ask this because it makes no sense to judge whether a show is successful or not until you can see what it is trying to achieve. For Actspressions’ The Tailor-Made Man, I settled on the category of “community theatre” as they call themselves “not full-time professionals” but rather “a team of individuals with a passion for the performing arts.” I will elaborate on what this means.
The point of this type of show (along with school musicals, church shows, large showchoir productions etc) is to get a lot of people involved in building something larger than the sum of its parts, build camaraderie and celebrate the community. There were something like 160 people involved – 50 in the cast alone and a slew of 5-10 person committees for the other elements (costumes, makeup/hair, animation and so forth). The programme thanked the “friends, family and volunteers.” The monetary worries of professional companies — breaking even, selling tickets, paying the staff — seem secondary and everyone just focuses on making a good show.
“The insane amount of hard work and passion showed and shone.”
And it WAS a good show. The insane amount of hard work and passion showed and shone. The design work all around was very detailed, with clear intention and pleasing, tight execution. Lead actor Justin Ooi had quite a knack for comedic timing as Joseph, and I could see director and drama-teacher Thasha Gunaseelan’s work in transforming non-experienced actors into people who could enunciate clearly, bounce off each other, connect with their objectives and improvise a bit. There was a clear and palpable joy in everything happening on stage, which is beautiful to watch. The cast and company were excited, dedicated and supportive of each other. Anytime that they had fun, and they had lots, their audience was right there with them. The house was packed and everyone had a good time. And really, what more can you ask for? ∗
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