Review: S.A. Sabdoprijono, “Pandawa Kumpul”

I imagine, based on my previous knowledge of Javanese shadow plays, that we were treated to a rather truncated version of this well-known excerpt from the Mahabharata (the part where the five Pandawa brothers get bored with being in exile, and help a king, their grandfather, fight a war), although at nearly three hours, it was tough to tell.

The shadow puppet mastery of Sigit Adji Sabdoprijono (currently a professor-in-residence at University of Michigan) is irrefutable.  People were encouraged to have a peek behind the screen to see him at work, and throughout the play the crowd watching him was large (I had a gander myself, and this was an artist at work, I’m telling you).  The problem was that all of the English narration was done before the start of the play, leaving a bewildered audience of 1100-plus trying desperately to figure out what was going on (Except for the Indonesians in the audience, of course, who could follow the native-language narrative just fine).  I lost the thread around the halfway point, so when one of the characters pulled out a pistol and shot another, the only way I could tell it was a good guy shooting a bad guy was that I remembered that all of the bad guys came from the right side of the screen.

It has been 15 years since the last full-on Wayang Kulit was staged in SE Michigan, so I do feel priviledged to have seen this one.  Let’s hope next time an English narrative is added, or at least a libretto is provided, so that the intricate, hypnotic world of the shadow play is more fully opened to us Yankee swine.

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