- Islands of Imagination: Volume One: Modern Indonesian Playsed. by Frank Stewart
Islands of Imagination: Volume One: Modern Indonesian Playsprovides an accessible introduction to theatrical activity outside of traditional forms such as wayangor topenghappening in Indonesia in the twentieth century. This collection is part of a larger trend of publications focusing on or anthologizing modern Asian drama—including several notable books and anthologies of modern Indonesian drama. The work of translation is often undervalued in academia—but as this collection demonstrates, these resources are vital to the study and teaching of world theatre.
The short introduction, written by Cobina Gillitt, does an outstanding job of contextualizing the plays included in the collection. She traces the [End Page 236]history of modern drama in Indonesia, from revolutionary dramas to realism and into the theatre after independence. Her inclusion of acting style and influences (such as Boleslavsky’s Acting: The First Six Lessons) helps the reader imagine theatrical production and style within world theatre history. It is not an easy task to succinctly summarize Indonesian history to place theatre within a context—but Gillitt writes an interesting and useful narrative. The introduction would work well as a standalone reading for undergraduates in a theatre history class, but also offers a good beginning for theatre scholars unfamiliar with Indonesia’s theatre and history.
Plays can be anthologized because of their “literary value independent of performance; others, because they are potential resources for future productions” (Cohen 2013: 509). The plays in this collection function primarily as literature because there is little or no information given about their production history; even the dates of the first productions are not given. The short biographies of the playwrights at the end of the book and the stage directions provide some insight into production style and approach. The seven plays within the collection offer examples of how theatre changed both thematically and in approach to production in Indonesia over the last one hundred years. Each of the translations is very readable and demonstrates different approaches to handling issues of language. These plays were originally written in Indonesian, but some of the plays reflect the diverse languages and ethnic identities of the archipelago. For example, The Kitchen, by Luna Vidya and translated by John H. McGlynn, puts Ruth’s dialogue in Maluku and the English translation is written below.
The first play, A Portrait of the Times, by Armijin Pané (1908–1970) and translated by Michael H. Bodden, dramatizes what happens when life takes a person outside expected gender roles. Written in the 1930s, it is the only play from before independence, and it offers an example of Indonesian realism, or “living room” drama, although the result is more rhetorical than the Ibsen-inspired psychological realism happening in Japan or China at the time. The story of the play focuses on the character Suparman, who has his university degree but has been unable to find employment. This causes the end of the relationship with his fiancée, Harsini, because she declares, “What need do I have for a jobless man?” But after his exit, we learn why she acted so harshly: “If I hadn’t hurt him, he might never have the chance to be happy” (p. 24). The ill-fated relationship bookends a longer discussion between their friends about gender and politics, which provides interesting historical perspectives but would be difficult to produce in theatres today.
The next three plays are from Indonesia’s New Order (1967–1998) and focus on giving voice to Indonesia’s most disadvantaged citizens. No Address, No Name, by Iwan Simatupang (1928–1970) and translated by John H. McGlynn, dramatizes those living beneath a bridge in a large city, people “considered of no consequences” (p. 25). The characters are at once rough and charming as they reveal the disappointment and isolation felt by people who left rural villages to seek their fortunes in the city. At the end of the play one character gets...