By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation
At the turn of this century, Dreambox introduced us to French playwright Yasmina Reza through the Thai production of her world-famous comedy “Art”. Four years ago her “God of Carnage” was also presented as a graduation project by a student director here.
Now, thanks to Life Theatre Company and Thong Lor Art Space (TLAS), we’ll soon experience another play of hers “Trois versions de la vie”, or as it is called in playwright Christopher Hampton’s translation “Life X 3”. Its London premiere in 2000 production featured Academy Award-winner Mark Rylance, and fellow Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt on Broadway three years later.
Ines (Parida Manomaiphibul), Hubert (William Sturek) and their two reluctant hosts Henri (Danainan Kridakorn) and Sonia (Sasithorn Panichnok). Photo/Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan
“The idea started from my wanting to work with three New York-based professional actors – Sasithorn ‘Heen’ Panichnok, William ‘Will’ Sturek and Danainan ‘Vin’ Kridakorn – and then identifying a contemporary play that would fit them the best,” says veteran director and co-founder of Life Theatre Bhanbhassa “Khru Ning” Dhubthien, Thailand’s sole member of the internationally renowned Actors’ Studio.
“I wasn’t sure at first whether I should stage a drama or a comedy but most of the contemporary works—‘Life X 3’ included—can’t be pigeon-holed in one category anyway. As a director, this play’s also a major challenge. With three slightly different versions of the same dramatic situation, it’s not crystal clear in the script where the play leads, so it’s up to the director to make that decision,” adds the winner of IATC-Thailand award for best direction for her work in “Chui Chai Saneha”.
Heen, a long-time member of Life Theatre who staged “Art” at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts two years ago, adds, “I chose ‘Art’ because of the script, which is truthful, witty and sarcastic. We’ve chosen ‘Life x 3’ for the same reason. The script has many layers and made me think about how we live our lives –the masks we wear and how important our reactions are. More complicated than ‘Art’, it partly discusses the cosmological world, which seems so foreign and far away from us, but as it turns out, is completely familiar.”
In “Life x 3”, the same dramatic situation is repeated three times in three acts, with no intermission. Research scientist Henri (Vin) and his wife Sonia (Heen) are relaxing at home in the evening after putting their baby son Arnaud to bed. He has invited his boss Hubert (Will) and his wife Ines (award-winning playwright Parida “Khru Bua” Manomaiphibul) for dinner but they show up a day too soon. They’re welcomed by the hosts, who are far from ready to receive guests.
“Life X 3” has received a considerable amount of praise since first being staged. British newspaper The Guardian says, “It’s an elegant enigma with triple variations”. The Sunday Times concurs, “This extraordinary play is both banal and profound. The writing is brisk, brittle, brilliantly funny and lethally accurate”. The Times Literary Supplement further comments: “A middle-class theatre for a middle-class audience, but so funny, so professional, so speedy that it makes one wonder afresh what the middle classes have done to deserve such piquant entertainment”.
Sasithorn Panichnok has received as much acclaim for her film work as her stage roles. Photo/Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan
The Bangkok cast members find the play a challenge but seem to be tackling their tasks efficiently.
Heen, who was most recently nominated at the major Thai film awards for her leading role in “The Island Funeral”, says, “It’s very confusing because the play repeats the same situation three times but in each of them our characters are slightly different. I have to find the right character before starting the scene so that it will proceed as it’s supposed to. Also I have to make sure that the attitude of my character in the first act doesn’t come out in the second or third act. Another challenge is the language. My character is a sharp lawyer who can efficiently use her words, so I have to make sure I understand everything she, and everyone else, is saying. And the lines in the three acts can be very similar so it’s easy to get tripped up and end up in another act. Because of this, each actor must have strong concentration and be sharply focused. Great work deserves great attention and I’m proud to have been presented with such a challenge.”
Will, who’s making his Thai stage debut in this production, adds, “Hubert and I are as different as chalk and cheese. He's insincere, insensitive and arrogant. He’s also a brilliant cosmologist. Funnily enough the easy part was learning about cosmology and dark matters! Figuring out how to make those unflattering qualities feel good and look natural was where the challenge lay. My method is always to look inwards. I work with what I have, and with what I’ve experienced, and the circumstances guide me from there.”
Hubert (William Sturek) and Ines (Parida Manomaiphibul) are two guests who arrive for dinner an evening too early. Photo/Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan
And in another first, Khru Ning, whose last work earlier this year was the adaptation of MR Kukrit Pramoj’s “Many Lives”, is making her debut at Thong Lor Art Space. “[TLAS’s first floor studio] is both a fun and challenging space. Given this and the play’s discussion on the Halo effect, which is both scientific and psychological, our set designer Ritirong ‘Khru Hong’ Jiwakanon [who also designed for ‘Many Lives’] is using a revolving stage to show different angles in different acts, while lighting designer Pornpan ‘Ching’ Arayaveerasid [who worked in his first stage work “Fever Room”] is experimenting with the reflection of lights on the walls,” she says.
C’est la vie!
- Life Theatre’s “Life X 3” is at Thong Lor Art Space (three minutes on foot from BTS Thong Lor, exit 3) from August 17 to 27 (except Wednesday), 8pm, and also at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. It’s in English with Thai surtitles.
- Tickets are Bt600 (Bt450 for students). Book by Thursday and pay only Bt500 for the first six shows, at (096) 776 1747.
- Find out more at Facebook/ThongLorArtSpace.