Beaming a light on human absurdity

Parnrut Kritchanchai's play is full of colourful characters and beautiful moments, but ultimately sacrifices poignancy for laughs

Photos courtesy of New Theatre Society

The latest adaptation effort by playwright-director Parnrut Kritchanchai revolves around the Moon, or rather, around five lonesome souls one Full-Moon night. It is also Parnrut's continued exploration of the melodrama genre in all its manifestations.

The lengthy title, Mon Hang Chantra Jong Samdang Ritta Na Badnee, which can be roughly translated as May The Spell Of The Moon Reveal Its Power Now, is like the more melodramatic version of the play's two main source materials, Terrence McNally's Frankie And Johnny In The Clair De Lune and the 1987 film Moonstruck, starring Cher and Nicolas Cage. In both works, two strangers fall passionately in love within hours of meeting each other during a Full Moon.

Parnrut's play treats the Moon and its mysterious power more as a backdrop, although a large papier mâché one hangs prominently outside the windows of the Crescent Moon Theatre's Crescent Moon Space.

She zooms in on two pairs of lovers -- a gay professor on a date with his student (Grisana Punpeng and Olan Kiatsomphol) and a Muslim roti-and-pulled-tea-shop owner and his estranged brother's fiancée (Khalid Midam and Akira Modsakul) -- and a married woman (Farida Jiraphan), who sits alone at a karaoke bar and interacts with the audience. The three groups of people have never met but can see each other from their respective rooms. The set itself begins almost as soon as we walk into Pridi Banomyong Institute to pick up the tickets. There, in the foyer, a few actors (not part of the cast) are singing romantic Thai pop songs and strumming the guitar.

When the house opens, we walk past inebriated men splayed outside the theatre's door. Inside the theatre, a woman sitting at a bar loudly and drily welcomes us and little by little leads us into the play. To her right is an apartment filled with books. Nearer to the audience is the roti-and-tea shop.

Parnrut's adaptation is at times deft and beautiful, at times confounding and frustrating. But this is her most restrained and intellectually ambitious work so far. She not only fully embraces the melodrama in these stories and in Thai soap operas, but she uses their excesses to satirise the genre.

Parnrut also pushes the comedic and the dramatic capacity of the characters to interesting, if not always great, effect. Khalid's hilariously over-the-top interpretation of the tortured baker (who was already over-the-top in Moonstruck) and Akira's acting that teeters between dramatic and comedic perfectly match each other in some scenes, but in others, they seem to belong to different stories.

As usual, Parnrut's play is full of colourful characters and actors who know all too well how to push the limits of human absurdity. It's a shame that in the end, she takes the clownish and nonsensical route, blunting her own critique of melodrama and diminishing the poignancy of these stories.

Mon Hang Chantra Jong Samdang Ritta Na Badneen

continues today until Monday at 8pm at Crescent Moon Space, Pridi Banomyong Institute. Tickets are 450 baht. Call 081-754-8784 or 089-136-5252. The play is in Thai with no English surtitles.


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