“Transistor’s Love Story” (Teeraphan, Bangkok, 2022) A Theatrical Review
“Transistor’s love story” is a book written by Wat Wallayanggoon. Penake Rattanaruang made it a film in 2001. I remembered indulging in watching it as a young boy. For a while, I have heard that someone will make it into a theatre. And that while is about two years now. I believe these two years have changed many people’s lives. Someone quit theatre, and some moved to a different country or career. Everybody seeks refuge in the light of the pandemics and whirlwind of recessions. Shakespeare always writes about ordinary people’s lives as a comedy, for example, in Twelve Nights and Much Ado about Nothing. Wat Wallayanggoon did a similar thing by writing “Transistor’s love story,” a lighthearted novel. In his first theatrical direction, Teeraphan directed the show as though it were Hamlet. He “holds the mirror up to nature.” And by holding this mirror, he holds it from farms in the rural area, hoping to reflect the lives of everyone involved. Those people are audiences, theatre-makers, and actors. However, those people stand in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city.
It is the story of Pan, a young lad who lives in a rural area. He dreamed of becoming a singer. His idol is Surapol Sombatchareon, Thailand’s Elvis Presley of that time. However, Pan just married and fathered a baby. He also caught the red card. Hence, he must serve in the military for a year. Passionate about singing, he won second place in the singing contest and fled the army. He took a convoy job in the music band, believing he would move up the ladder to be the band’s lead singer. The dream was quashed. He suffered collateral defeats and ended up in jail.
“Transistor’s Love Story” explores the catastrophe in marginalized people. It looks at “the have-nots.” With no money and no status, how could these people overcome hardship? In this play, the answer is clear they cannot.
But the bleakness didn’t exist only in the characters’ journey. The play’s direction is not without flaws. Firstly, the lighting is grotesque. It develops the habit of blacking out just for the sake of blacking, without meaning and reasonable justification. And in the dark, the picture of the Pyramid of Capitalism System pops up in my mind. Why? Because the caption “We work for all, and we feed all” is at the bottom of the pyramid. The bottom part of the pyramid belongs to cheap labor. It resonates well with how the play treats its cast. Supporting actors such as Saifa and Skow have to play every spear-holding role. They improvised to fill up the dead air and the scripts’ flaws. It was too much of a burden for these generous thespians to handle.
In the acting dimension, nothing is more irritating than the leading female character’s tears. Sadao, Pan’s wife, the leading character, sobbed so much that I couldn’t believe it was the character. These rural people are strong, and their responses are blunt and much more masculine. “What has Pan felt and thought toward the play?” Says my thought in the dark when the final blackout moment came. Pan’s performance is unclear, so much so that it reveals how unfinished the direction is. The two leading characters acted as if they were greek tragic heroes, which they aren’t. Somehow, they weren’t able to tackle the very souls of these plebeians.
What is most questionable is the absence of the transistor radio, the thing which the play is named after. The show started at about 7pm, not until about 8pm, when the transistor radio appeared on the stage. The show spent too much time establishing the love storyline between Pan and Sadao. I would argue they could wrap it up in ten minutes. And they should make use of more of the transistor radio. Who and what oppresses these characters should have come from the radio, not the live music. Maybe audiences can keep the sense of time from the radio instead of the actor telling them in the line out of the blue. The radio should weave through the story rather than randomly showing up.
The script could have more autonomy if the writer had discussed his ideas with Wat Wallayanggoon’s original story. It is voiceless. Like playing piano monotony without interpretation, it is driven too much solely by Wat Wallayanggoon’s work. If anything is more valuable than spectacular scenic designs, live music, and such. It is the writer’s voice — the willingness to share what is true to them and only what they can convey. It is that moment when we can see our lives through the dramatic mirror of the play.