Rorschach Theatre’s co-artistic director Randy Baker has penned some intriguing plays over the years—memorable shows such as Dream Sailors and After the Flood. His latest, Forgotten Kingdoms, is currently making its world premiere on the stage of the Atlas Performing Arts Center.
In explaining how the play came about, Baker, who grew up in Singapore, remembered a story told by his missionary grandfather about trying to convert an islander who didn’t want to be converted, he once told BroadwayWorld Indonesia.
The play is set on a small island in Indonesia, where a wooden house balances on stilts over a churning sea. The events in the house seem almost just as fragile. Inside, Reverend David Holiday attempts to convert a skeptical young local whose fate has become improbably intertwined with his own. At stake is the life of the young man’s father, the future of the island’s ancient culture and the happiness of an American family caught between worlds.
The production was made possible through a partnership with the Embassy of Indonesia and the Minister of Culture and Education of Indonesia. As so, Rorschach cast Indonesian actor Rizal Iwan to star in the lead role of Yusuf Bin Ibrihim.
“I play Yusuf, the son of a former town leader in the Riau islands, who visits the house of an American missionary and his family to fulfill his father’s request, leading to an intense tug-of-war between these two men of different faiths,” Iwan says. “I prepared for the role by reading articles about the Riau islands, including the history of the ancient Riau Lingga kingdom. I also saw videos about life in the Riau islands, past and present, how the people there talk and everything, although, funny enough, I don’t really have many Indonesian lines.”
The young man was part of the play’s development reading with Jakarta Players in Indonesia and is thrilled to have been involved with the play since its early stages and even more excited to be performing in the U.S. for the first time.
“I was fascinated by Randy Baker’s haunting script when I first read it back in Jakarta. As an Indonesian, some of the issues in the play feel close to home, but at the same time, they come in such a mysterious and magical package. It takes me to places I did not expect to be,” he says. “The questions of faith and reason, the father-son issues, the rejecting/embracing foreign influences.”
When Iwan was asked to come to DC to perform in the play, he couldn’t believe his ears. It was an opportunity he had dreamed of for years.
“Working with an original play, with a professional American theater company is something I have never done before,” he says. “The idea of actually being there as the script and the characters are going through changes and evolving along the way—being part of that process as an actor, in a foreign environment—has been such an exciting and deliciously terrifying terrain for me.”
Although he admits it was somewhat overwhelming at first and he needed to let his excitement wear down, Iwan has enjoyed his early moments at Rorschach and feels he has learned a great deal as an actor.
“As I’m working on the character in the U.S., I made some new discoveries about Yusuf through Cara Gabriel’s direction and Yusuf’s interaction with the other characters as interpreted by my fellow actors here,” he says. “As I was trying to get more comfortable in Yusuf’s skin, I began to discover sides of Yusuf I hadn’t seen before. And as a result, the Yusuf I am playing now is so much different than the Yusuf I was portraying at the reading in Indonesia.”
from Rorschach Theatre
closes May 21, 2017
Details and tickets
The road to acting is something that still seems a bit bizarre to Iwan, but it’s one he is happy to be on.
“I still have difficulties seeing myself as an actor, really,” he admits. “I acted just once in college. My interest really started in 2011, when I gathered up the courage to audition for a production of 12 Angry Men by a community theater company called Jakarta Players. When I got a part in it, I freaked out and actually tried to talk the director into changing his mind. Thank God he didn’t, and I’ve been involved with several of Jakarta Players productions since then.”
That association helped him to the original reading of Forgotten Kingdoms in the first place.
“I really like to pretend to be in someone else’s shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and finding a little bit of myself in different characters,” he says. “And I also enjoy the camaraderie in every production. It’s something I cherish every single time.”
At Rorschach, Forgotten Kingdoms is being directed by Cara Gabriel and also features Natalie Cutcher, Sun King Davis, Jeremy Gee and Vishwas. It runs through May 21.
Reactions to the show have been positive so far and Iwan has learned from talking with people after performances that people are leaving with more than one message.
“I think the play is so rich and nuanced that everybody will walk away from it with different things on their mind,” Iwan says. “There is no one single message that I hope audiences will bring home with them, but whatever it is, I hope it is something that speaks to them on a very personal level. Because to me, that’s what the play is really about—personal stories.”
What he himself enjoys about the play is the fact that it sounds so big and yet feels so intimate; so exotic and yet so universal; so strange and yet so familiar.
“The play might be taking place in this foreign, faraway land, but at the heart of it, it’s really about what you are dealing with and going through as a human being,” he says. “And that, I think, is something that everyone can relate to.”