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Ephemeral: A Spectator’s Review

Universitas Airlangga’s English Nite is back with a story about a disturbed girl and a boy who got disturbed helping her.

Yesterday I went to watch Universitas Airlangga’s English Department Students’ Association’s English Nite play. This time, the performance is titled Ephemeral, and this time it was performed at Balai Budaya Surabaya, which is a great improvement from the Gedung Pertunjukan Cak Durasim which was used for the 6 previous installments of English Nite. Props to the Student Council and the organizers who make this happen.

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Poster of English Nite EDSA Airlangga 2018. taken from English Department Students’ Association Universitas Airlangga’s LINE account.

I know, the last time I wrote this kind of review I said that it was the last time I’d had an opportunity to watch an English Nite play. To put things briefly, there had been a change of plans. Next year, though, would be different as I have to work and/or study way out of town. So most probably this would be my last review.

Here goes:

Ephemeral features the tale of a girl named Elizabeth, who is distraught by the murder of both her parents. In order to cope with her loss, as well as constant bullying by her schoolmates, she created a host of friends and hang around by them. A childhood friend of Elizabeth, Jason, notices her schizophrenic behavior and tries to talk her out of it.

This sounds a lot like A Beautiful Mind (2001), a movie about the Nobel-winning mathematician John Nash’s battle against his delusions, which also deal with imaginary friends. Well, I don’t know if the scriptwriters drew inspiration from this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Let’s jump straight into the ending, though. El confronted her imaginary friends, but in the process she ended up crashing into a vehicle on the street during her hallucinatory bouts. Jason become depressed because he’s unable to save her. However, in the last scene, we are shown that Jason is actually inside a mental institution and has been repeating his story about El and his inability to save her for the past 10 years. So, in fact, the whole play takes place in the mind of a mentally deranged Jason.

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Synopsis sheet handed by the organizers. Scanned by me for this writeup.

For me, the premise of the play is okay, but it’s the execution that leaves the audience dumbfounded. Playing with point-of-view works well in medias like TV and move, but I don’t think it can be done on stage. The directors try to differentiate the scenes happening in real life and those happening in the minds of the characters through lighting. However, this is tricky. Without prior information, this transition is not obvious to the spectators. Moreover, the reveal in the end seems to “cheat” the whole purpose of the play. This kind of approach was also used in English Nite 2015’s play Memento Vivere, and I think it does not seem to work that well either.

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Elizabeth and Jason. (Photo by me)

That being said, the scriptwriters deserve credit for bringing in jokes into the play. There are jokes in dialogues, as well as some practical jokes, which is a welcome surprise. Usually, English Nite viewers are unable to fully understand the story because they can’t hear the dialogue because of technical issues (like the mic not working) or because the play is presented in English. The jokes help to cover this problem. It makes the audience react with laughter, which is good because audience reaction is an integral part of the drama experience.

Overlooking the problems with the story and delivery, the direction itself is excellent. Transitions are handled well with no flaws. There was no error in the technical aspects of the performance, except for the microphones. Moreover, it’s clear that the cast has been very well selected and trained.

The talents themselves are able to carry on with their roles despite the problems, especially the problem with the microphones (this is a constant source of headache for organizers each year, so I feel you ppl). The moods and personalities are visible and distinct scene-by-scene. This is what makes great performances great, and this is why the audience can stick to watching the play despite a rather confusing flow of the story.

The lighting department can carry its work well. Spotlights are used well to create focus on characters, especially during intense scenes. The placement and time are also ably coordinated, with no part missing the cue. Of course the venue does offer some superiority in this part, but the persons in charge are the ones who make it really work.

 

Shots from the play, also taken by me. Again, sorry for the quality.

Sound and music-wise, it continues the commendable track record from the previous two performances (The Verse and Left in 2017). Sound effects fit the atmosphere very well without being overblown. The climactic moments are especially propped up because of the music and sound effects. Again, the choice of venue surely helps, but this won’t work without the work of the sound director and her team. (Totally unbiased, though! 😜)

Speaking in terms of previous performances, Ephemeral seems to carry on the norm of using original scripts in the past three years instead of adaptations. Like I said in the previous recap of five English Nite plays, this is tricky. Often, the scriptwriters use the logic of a screenplay and apply it to a dramatic play. I think it’s worth noting that the experience of watching a play is different from watching a movie, although they’re both done in a theater. Since a play is inferior in terms of visual and audio engagement, dramatic performances often try to distinguish themselves by trying to draw the audience through jokes, breaking the fourth wall, etc. This has been done in other departments’ performances (like Sasindo’s Dramaturgi or Pakarsajen’s Ngangsu Candra Kidung) with great results. I think EDSA can also apply these techniques so audiences get and stay engaged throughout the play.

All in all, Ephemeral was an interesting ride for me. It has its faults, of course, but the overall execution makes up for all that. Surely, I would want to watch such a play again next year had I been given the chance.

Well, that’s my review-slash-rant. I hope I covered everything, but since this is getting so long, I have to skip a few things. For all the cast and crew of Ephemeral, thank you for delivering such an entertaining show and please do tell me if there are things that I got wrong. Afterall, I’m just writing a review no one asked for. Haha.

Bye for now.

 

[This review is also posted on my LINE account: https://timeline.line.me/post/_dUkSgBsamOoZFIDmvspQpZ0gVfNdLjad5QHKcso/1154487277505063035]

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