There are no escaping racial stereotypes in Singapore. Time and again, we're reminded of its irreverent nature — seemingly humourous when mucking about with friends, offensive when applied to professional settings. In their newest production, local theatre company The Necessary Stage (TNS) celebrates Malay and Chinese stereotypes in Best of (His Story), a Malay man's narrative of the relationship with his soon-to-be ex-wife, his family, his friends and his faith.
Written by Cultural Medallion and playwright Haresh Sharma, the story that unfolds is a strikingly familiar one. While it's never revealed how long the man (played by award-winning stage and television actor Sani Hussin) has been married, you're introduced to him as a man on his way to the Syariah Court to finalise his divorce proceedings. The wife is a character played by Siti Khalijah Zainal three years ago, when we were first acquainted with this fictional couple in Best Of, a look at a woman's perspectives as she goes through divorce. As the title suggests, this response deals with the other side of the coin: What's in the heart and mind of a Malay Muslim man when he goes through divorce? What's asked of him?
The story digs into the crux of what makes a man — in particular, what society expects from a Malay Muslim husband living in Singapore in this day and age. While generations before him bore examples of a pious man who leads the family through respect in authoritative ways (albeit not through household chores), this particular man isn't too convinced by past examples, though he does reference them often. His late grandfather appears in telling throwbacks, represented by Sani's swift release of the prayer mat.
The prayer mat is one of the five props on stage, each weighing more than what they appear to represent. As Sani moves within the space — a room with black walls — the sheer white blinds conceal sobs and unspoken words. The Walter Knoll replica sits to comfort the husband, but exist to remind him of his wife's wayward behaviour. The mat exists as his true outlet of solace, nursing the very roots of his faith as well as the playful banter among dear friends.
Best of (His Story) plays out achingly familiar stereotypes that are both humourous and uncomfortable to confront. Throughout the monologue, Sani slips into these roles: That sassy queen, that delinquent with a good heart, that woman who loves picking fights, and that man who can't be bothered to talk things through. Unfortunately for this particular union, that man and woman are husband and wife trapped in what culture, society and religion demands of them.
Sharma's writing is beautifully swift, moving in and out of flashbacks to the current day. Hussin deftly lends his charisma and vulnerability to the playwright's words — the character and its portrayal are instantly likeable and easy to empathise with. You're moved not just by Sharma's words or Sani's comical delivery. Additionally, you're also heartened by the rich, interior lives that lie within a man who's struggling to find out what sort of adult he should be. The struggle is truly real.
Best Of (His Story) runs till 13 November at The Necessary Stage Black Box. For tickets, click here.