Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 16, no. 2 (1999)

Editor’s Note

Gunji Masakatsu: A Drama Scholar Like No Other
Laurence Kominz, p. iii


The Incantation of Semar Smiles: A Tarling Musical Drama by Pepen Efendi
Translated and introduced by Matthew Isaac Cohen, p. 139

Many of the rich cultures of Indonesia have yet to receive adequate attention by scholars. This translation of “The Incantation of Semar Smiles” provides an introduction to one of these genres–tarling, performed primarily in north-coastal West Java. This musical melodrama, with book, lyrics, and music by Pepen Effendi and released by the audiocassette company Prima in 1994, represents a new development in the history of the theatrical form. Dialogue for all previous live stage productions and recordings is largely improvised and songs are stock. In contrast, Fendi’s operetta of jilted love and magical revenge is almost completely prescripted and musically through-composed.

Matthew Isaac Cohen is a cultural anthropologist who has conducted extensive fieldwork on theatrical cultures in Java, Indonesia. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies, the Netherlands, in the “Performing Arts of Asia: Tradition and Innovation” program and is working on a book on shadow puppet theatre in the Cirebon region. His “Barikan: A Ritual Drama for Shadow Puppet Theatre” is forthcoming from the Lontar Foundation.

Masks (Peran): A Malay Play by Noordin Hassan
Translated and introduced by Solehah Ishak, p. 194

Masks is a previously untranslated play by Malaysia’s well-known playwright Noordin Hassan. Solehah Ishak briefly introduces the context of modern Malay play, situates Masks within the oeuvre of Noordin’s playwriting career and analyzes the play within the perimeter of Malaysia’s changing social-political-cultural milieu.

Solehah Ishak, who holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University, presently teaches traditional and modern Malay theatre at the National University of Malaysia. She has presented and published numerous papers on modern and traditional Malay theatre forms. She is also the editor of Malay Literature, a journal devoted to Malay literary studies and published biannually by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the government literary and publishing agency.


National Treasure/National Theatre: The Interesting Case of Okinawa’s Kumi Odori Musical Dance-Drama
Barbara E. Thornbury, p. 230

One of the least-known traditional forms of Japanese theatre is kumi odori, which is actually of extreme importance in Okinawa, where it was born and has evolved since the early mid-eighteenth century. In this article Barbara E. Thornbury discusses kumi odori, especially the problems related to its paradigmatic situation as a major cultural artifact that recently has received governmental support in the form of an expensive national theatre devoted to its preservation. After offering a brief introduction to the form, her article examines the political and cultural issues involved.

Barbara E. Thornbury is a professor of Japanese at Temple University. She has published in ATJ and other journals, and her most recent book is The Folk Performing Arts: Traditional Culture in Contemporary Japan (1997).

Widening the Circle: The Refiguring of West Sumatran Randai
Craig Latrell, p. 248

Through an examination of its ties to the matrilineal Minangkabau society and the ways in which these ties are changing, Craig Latrell examines the ongoing process through which the West Sumatran form of randai is assimilating and adapting to global culture,. Rather than limiting his discussion to the negative effects of Western culture on the form, Latrell discusses the ways in which randai itself has changed to accommodate or respond to these influences.

Craig Latrell is Visiting Assistant Professor at Hamilton College, where he teaches theatre history, Asian theatre, and playwriting. His article “Neither Traveler nor Tourist: The ‘Accidental’ Legacy of Antonin Artaud” is forthcoming in Converging Interests: Traders, Travelers, and Tourists in Southeast Asia (Berkeley: Center for SE Asia Studies, University of California). He holds the D.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama and serves as member-at-large on the board of the Association for Asian Performance.


Topeng Betawi: The Sounds of Bodies Moving
Henry Spiller, p. 260

Henry Spiller takes us to northern West Java, Indonesia, to explain a local form of theatre called topeng betawai. Focusing on a transitional comic segment in the performance that comes between its dance-oriented opening and its dialogue-oriented end, he contends that this segment contains stylistic conventions that effect a modulation from movement to word and back again “by representing movement in words(by speaking the sounds of bodies moving.”

Henry Spiller is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. His paper was selected as one of the three winners in the annual debut panel competition of the Association for Asian Performance and was presented at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education Conference in San Antonio, Texas, in the summer of 1998. The other papers chosen were by Kei Hibino, a Ph.D. candidate at the CUNY Graduate School, and Mai Naito, a Ph.D. candidate at New York University. (Their papers were not submitted for publication.)


The Supermuses of Stage and Screen: Vietnam’s Female Dramatists
Catherine Diamond, p. 268

According to Catherine Diamond’s survey, Vietnam’s contemporary theatre has an unusually large number of women participating in playwriting and directing. Several, as well as performing, are involved in both. Moreover, the plays being presented in the two largest cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, have female characters dominating the stage. The women dramatists exert an unusual amount of creative control in the theatre. Some work in close collaboration with male colleagues or have spouses in the theatre; others have been at odds with male management and direction and prefer to work with other women artists. The predominance of successful women playwrights and directors may be the result of several factors: the centuries-old tradition of female-oriented theatre; the recent activities of women in military theatre troupes; the Communist Party’s attempts to legislate sexual equality in a society with lingering feudalistic attitudes; and the women’s transmission of family traditions in the theatre.

Catherine Diamond is a professor of theatre in Taiwan, where she is a director with Thalie Theatre, Taiwan’s only English-language troupe. Also a dancer, she has published several times in ATJ and has written fictional accounts of dancers in Asia in Sringara Tales.


Gerry Yokota-Murakami, The Formation of the Canon of Nô: The Literary Tradition of Divine Authority, reviewed by Stanca Scholz-Cionca, p. 285