Coming out of the last showing of Gold Rain and Hailstones, I felt conflicted. On the one hand, I wished that more people could have seen it; and yet at the same time, the entire thing felt tailor-made for such a specific audience that if you weren’t from that narrow group, odds are you wouldn’t really get it.
I don’t usually have the opportunity to attend plays, it’s just one of those things you plan for, but then with the kids and schoolnights and just about everything else, it usually takes a near-miracle for us to be able to get out on a weeknight. Surprisingly one did happen, to allow us to literally drive up the street to DPAC where the show was on.
So, back to the play. It was intense and intimate – if you happen to be from that particular generation it references and talks to: children of ex-PTD officers or senior government servants, and those who went to do their degrees in Middle America, as many did in the 90s; my wife being one of them. The play resonated deeply with her, as Amy (Farah Rani) essentially was a stand in for many of her own experiences, and those of her close friends. I joke with her often about the stereotypical “Malaysian US liberal arts degree major who never finishes a damn thing” so when one of the lines in Gold Rain about Amy was “What course DIDN’T she take?” I could feel the wave of recognition hit my wife.
That’s the gamble, to me. That at any point the audience will find one of the characters to be their stand-in, not necessarily just Amy. Whether it’s Nina (one of Sharifah Amani’s many effective roles), Man (Redza Minhat in all his scene-chewing glory), or Jay (Ghafir Akbar, the glue that binds Man, Nina and Amy, and probably the single-best performance of the night), depending on which friend (or archetype) you were, you would nod and squirm differently. Without the benefit of context, the work teeters on the edge of being unrelatable. It doesn’t try to speak to everyone, because it has a narrow laser pointed at the now 40-plus year olds: This is your experience, we know what you did, and others know too, because they were all there.
My wife told me the script spoke directly to her, and of course it did. It was, in a way, customised for her. She has friends exactly like Nina and Man and Jay, some of whom left and never truly returned to Malaysia. She returned to Malaysia post 9/11 and all the baggage (that scene in Gold Rain where an old white lady thought Asians had an extra tailbone, my wife had a similar encounter) to a place that felt different, joined the workforce, and tried to fit in. I posited that if we hadn’t met, she’d probably have settled with some Tengku somewhere and turned out like Nina, and she didn’t disagree.
The best lines in Gold Rain were from Jay, and I think he encapsulates perfectly the problem of anyone who isn’t part of the approved mainstream: society tolerates your differences as long as you color within the lines, and thrashes you when they’re tired of thrashing each other. All he wants, he plaintively wails, is to be. Of all the characters in Gold Rain, he’s perhaps gone the furthest in his personal journey: he accepts himself fully. He plays his public role so he can enjoy his personal space. The irony of the marginalised other so often acting as the mediator isn’t lost.
By the end of the play, though, it comes full circle, almost predictably. The death of Amy’s father finally brings the gang all back together. They seem to have accepted their lot in life: Nina and her GRO-chasing husband, Man with his eternal machismo-flavored chip on his shoulder, Amy who comes to terms somewhat as to her place in the scheme of things, and Jay, the Permanent Outsider and friend-to-all.
It’s a powerful script, and there’s a lot to unpack, even for someone like me who doesn’t share the experiences it talks about. I am privileged to be able to see it, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.