By Lia Windt
“A picture’s worth a thousand words” is a cringe-worthy phrase because of how desperately it has been overused. However, it is the simplest way to describe the way the new play Sematakaki was able to convey a story with minimal dialogue and captivating visuals.
Last night in the Hennessy Theater, Sematakaki debuted for the first time. The work was created in memory of the Indonesian genocide in the late 1960s, commemorating its 50th anniversary. Instead of tackling the issue literally, Iwan Effendi and Maria Tri Sulistyani, the work’s creators, designed a place and time in which the common people would belittle anyone that had red feet because of the idea that these people would bring bad luck to the village.
Tanamera is a girl that has this unfortunate trait, and she is therefore pursued by two baby skeletons who know that death quickly follows those with red feet.
The puppets used in this work were intricately designed and simply a marvel to watch. The actors and actresses involved captured the movements and emotions of the puppets, making them not just appear but feel like they were actual living beings. The puppets’ faces may have been physically still, but the performers were able to project personality and life through them.
To make up for the lack of dialogue, an original and edgy score was composed to guide the audience into feeling what is happening in the scene that unfolds before them. The scenery, lights, music, and performance as a whole was so well arranged that a few words were needed to describe the “red feet” legend, and nothing more. Just as Tri Sulistyani concluded at a Q&A after the performance, “That’s why it’s silent puppetry: you don’t need to talk; you just need to feel.”