Hawa (2015), Review

25 April 2015, 12:00am


Final Ablution

The power of a poignant story told with nuance and complexity, coupled with sharp directing and strong acting results in a stunning, moving and thought-provoking performance entitled HawaHawa, a Malay word which means the Quranic Eve or female, is written by Johnny Jon Jon, presented by Hatch Theatrics and directed by Faizal Abdullah.

The play opens with Siti (Isabella Chiam), a Chinese who recently converted to Islam, making funeral arrangements for her close Malay friend Sarah, who is later revealed to be her lover. Disowned by her parents for living a life of sin, Siti moved in with Sarah and lived in a small isolated world of their own. After Sarah’s death, Siti finds herself having no friends to invite to the funeral and she is reluctant to inform Sarah’s parents of her partner’s demise. Ahmad (Saiful Amri), the funeral director, tells her she must arrange for many people to be present at the prayers, and if she is unable to do so, he can help her with the task by charging her $5 per person. Siti refuses. She is then greeted by a “funeral crasher”, Zaki (Al-Matin Yatim) who claims that it is his duty to God to comfort the “veiled woman”. Through witty exchanges between the three characters and vignettes of memories, the romantic story of Siti and Sarah, Zaki’s family woes, and Ahmad’s religious livelihood unfold.

As a female is required to give ablution to a female corpse and Ahmad’s wife who usually handles this task for him is serving as a midwife in another household, Siti is asked to carry out the work of washing the body. Ahmad demonstrates on Zaki the meticulous process of bathing, dressing and wrapping up the dead. The breathless silence from the audiences who watch intently lulls them into a state of meditation. The final ablution of the dead almost serves as a cathartic for the observers too. The delivery of a baby and the completion of the ablution take place concurrently towards the end of the play, which suggest the beginning of a fresh journey. Siti eventually agrees to pay a fee for Ahmad to assemble a crowd for prayer before the dead is buried.

Through a courageous portrayal of a homosexual relationship between two races, with liberal references to Islam and God, the play questions the meaning of sin, holiness, rules and love. The minimalist lighting which plays with shadows, the white translucent pieces of cloth that form the set on which poetic texts about stages of life are projected, and the sweet scent in the space offer me a simple and aesthetically pleasing haven for reflection, a good contrast to the emotive issues presented in the play. There is an undercurrent of unsaid negotiations between self and Self; self and the play. This is a beautifully sorrowful; poetically explosive; humorously serious piece of work.

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