Thursday, May 28, 2009

Duelling Naks

Nat Myria Benedetti, left, and Teeranai na Nongkai.
Battling ghosts seem to be a theme this year.

Within a month of each other, two theater companies in Bangkok are staging musicals based on the popular Mae Nak Phra Khanong ghost story.

First off the blocks is Mae Nak Phra Khanong: The Musical, which has opened at the Muang Thai Rachadalai Theatre. Apparently, there was such a high demand for tickets, that the show was extended by three weeks. It's now running until June 21.

This is a production by Scenario and directed Takonkiat Viravan, the entertainment titan who is responsible for a ton of popular TV soap operas. It stars Nat Myria Benedetti as the ghost wife Nak.

In July, the Dreambox company will stage Mae Nak the Musical at the M Theatre. This production is directed by Daraka Wongsiri and it stars Teeranai na Nongkai.

Scenario's production has been reviewed by the Bangkok Post's Alongkorn Pravudhiphongs. Here's an excerpt (cache):

Gleefully, on its debut last week, the ghostly show tune kept its promise by offering stage spectacles full of spine-chilling and magical moments, an emotional joyride that ran between horror, romance and laughter, and star magnets that came with acting and singing talents. Takonkiet Viravan's seventh musical is indeed a fun and memorable experience for those who wish to be scared and then scream.

Despite such theatrical excitement throughout the 150-minute performance, what I found missing, however, were the subtle moments that would allow me, and probably other audiences, to enter in the head and sink into the hearts of the lead characters due to fast-forward-like pace and disproportionate libretto.

Influenced by TV-editing style, the pace was quite speedy and overwhelmed by many stories. Nak and Mak's romance and hardship -- her accidental death during child labour, her resurrection, the reunion between the two, Mak's revelation and Nak's vengeance (phew!) -- were swiftly recounted in a 90-minute packed timeframe.

I should probably see it, having seen at least four films of this tale -- Nonzee Nimibutr's 1999 drama Nang Nak, Mark Duffield's The Ghost of Mae Nak from 2005, last year's animated adventure, and even the live-dubbed 1958 version. And after all, the Scenario musical has English supertitles.

Meanwhile, Daily Xpress theatre correspondent Pawit Mahasarinand offered a preview of the forthcoming Dreambox production. Director Daraka promises to tell the story from Nak's point of view and try to explain why she was so full of rage -- something filmmaker Pimpaka Towira did in her debut short film, which I'd like to see someday. Here's something I didn't know about the character:

Nak, born into a well-to-do family in Ayutthaya, eloped to Phra Khanong with Mak, a lower-class man.

"She became a fish out of water," Daraka points out. "It was a major conflict that incited the whole series of horrific events, but it's never been explored by any of the films or plays about her."

Reading between the lines of Ajarn Pawit's preview, something tells me he isn't too keen on the rival Scenario show:

Loud applause greeted a sneak preview of five memorable scenes for the press last week. This production is set to exceed our expectations. After so many versions of the tale over half a century, it will still be compelling to see another.

Realistic drama overshadows supernatural horror, and the lyrics and music serve the story rather than the pop chart.

I don't know if Pawit has written a review of the other musical yet. Perhaps that was just it.

The Dreambox show runs from July 3 to 19. Tickets are on sale now.

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