'Fault Lines' is a play about many themes, for instance, the Malay diaspora experience, the divisions between us, and how living abroad can change a person.
By CHIN JIAN WEI
Many Malaysians have dreamed of living overseas, whether for work or travel. Some of us have made that dream a reality. How does living overseas change a person and their relationship with their home country? Fault Lines, a new Malaysian play written by Adriana Nordin Manan and directed by Ghafir Akbar, is a Malaysian family drama set in the Malay diaspora in New York. Fatimah Abu Bakar and Putrina Rafie play the mother-daughter duo of Habsah Aziz and Shereen Rahman. After years of separation, Shereen is reunited with her family when they come over to New York. However, she is keeping a big, scandalous secret from them.
Both the playwright Adriana and director Ghafir have had experience living overseas, hence this play has strong personal connections for both of them. Adriana says, “It’s a love letter to my younger self. I studied in the US for a significant chunk of my life, and I remember when I just arrived, just two weeks later 9/11 happened. I was a foreigner and an outsider, I was young, and a Muslim woman. I went through the War on Terror. The thing about writing a play is that you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. It was me having some fellowship with the younger me.”
The writing of Fault Lines served as a way for Adriana to process the seven years she spent abroad. Instead of starting with a clear ending in mind, she explored her memories and feelings while she was writing it. “I don’t think I’ll write a play that is easy or which I know the ending. This play has really challenged me to ask questions and consider different viewpoints. It’s a really big thing personally.
“The title Fault Lines refers to the figure of speech, dividing lines and irreconcilable differences within our societies that seem almost immutable, the hard lines you cannot cross,” she explains. “Even visually, with five letters on one side and five on the other, you can almost imagine a line running through the words.
“It’s quite a wide and far-reaching play in the themes it covers,” Adriana continues. “There’s this idea of breaking with tradition, breaking away from intergenerational differences. There’s home and diaspora. When you’re transported out of your home environment, you think home is far away, whatever pressures I have back home, I don’t have them here, so I’m free to live the way I want. But you’re still subject to the invisible need to conform. What’s my obligation? Who are the people in my life I don’t want to disappoint? There’s also a theme of polarization and a world that seems unstable. The play is set in 2018, a time when the world outside is going through flux and a bit of instability.
“I like writing characters who don’t coexist easily. I hope the story threads of each of the characters will speak to different people differently,” Adriana says. Ghafir adds, “The characters in the play are characters that I have met before or are within my orbit. I know aunts, uncles, and cousins like this. There’s a lifetime of family encounters to pull from. It’s also about understanding what it’s like to be separated from something that you’re comfortable with, to go away from home. Everyone has experienced what it’s like to be alienated from something you’re comfortable with. How much do you change, how much do you give up to adapt to a new environment? And when you return, how much of it do you keep?”
Living overseas can be a transformative experience. After immersing yourself in a different culture and social circle for years, one may end up out of sync with the people and culture they left behind. “The way people change is a personal thing,” Ghafir says. “It’s hard for us to anticipate. In the journey of life, people grow up and evolve naturally. I think it’s important that we are open to these changes. I think that sometimes conflict happens when we expect people to be a certain way or cater to our desires, when in fact that person has changed, and that’s OK. You have to communicate and talk about things.
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