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Theatre Review (Singapore): The Kanjoos (Adapted from Moliere’s The Miser by Hum Theatre

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The Kanjoos, an adaptation from Moliere’s The Miser, is Hum Theatre’s (Singapore) latest offering, running from May 11 to 13 and 17 to 19 at the DBS Arts Centre, home of the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT).

Directed by Dinker Jani and produced by Sakina Dhilawala, The Kanjoos is a farcical look at Kanjooswamy (Subin Subaiah), a scrooge and skinflint of the highest order, who’s not above stealing internet access from his neighbour’s wifi, or getting his electricity via a cycle-powered generator.

The widower Kanjooswamy’s family is made up of son Chari (Pavan J. Singh) and daughter Priya (Sharda Maxine Harrison) who find his miserliness unlivable and by the second half of the play, begin plotting his demise, especially when Kanjooswamy starts eyeing Chari’s love Tien-Tien (Clarice Jena Luo) as a possible wife for himself. Priya meanwhile is in love with Victor (Simon Wong), one of Kanjooswamy’s workers, but can’t reveal her love to her father as Kanjooswamy wants her to wed an older man, BG (Jerry Hoh), who’ll bring more money into the family.

Into this mix enters Jaya Lolita (Daisy Irani) who’s in debt and needs $10,000 from Kanjooswamy. She uses her womanly curves and sexuality to coax the money out of him, meanwhile promising him Tien-Tien in return. Tien-Tien on the other hand finds Kanjooswamy unappealing, but Jaya convinces her that she’ll do well to marry him as he does have money to his name and at 70-plus years of age, will surely kick the bucket soon, leaving Tien-Tien with a nice little pot of gold. Unbeknownst to the family, Kanjooswamy indeed has literally a pot of gold, having converted all his money to gold, which he keeps hidden inside an unused toilet decorating his backyard! 

In the last act, Kanjooswamy discovers his gold gone, and chaos ensues as the police are called and Kanjooswamy’s maid-cum-driver-cum-cook-cum-everything else, Kok (Gerald Chew), accuses Victor of stealing the gold, which leads to a slew of silly revelations that bring the play to a humorous end.

Subin Subaiah is absolutely perfect in the titular role of Kanjooswamy. An actor with an established resume and recognizable talent, Subaiah nailed the role of a 70-something, stingy, grumpy old man. Attired in a veshti (sarong) through the entire play, and bearing an Indian-laced accent, Subaiah was both convincing and enthralling in his portrayal of an unreasonable man with a narrow vision of saving as much money as he could. Even with this convoluted story, which was pretty thin in terms of its material at times, Subaiah rose above the mere page with his body language and mannerisms that made him completely watchable on stage, and drew audiences to feast on his performance.

The jokes in this comedy are really hit and miss; when they miss, they miss by a mile, but when they hit, they are comedic gems. An example occurs when Tien-Tien is shocked at Jaya suggesting she marry for economic gain, to which Jaya retorts, “Are you sure you’re from China?” A lot of slapstick moments are also incorporated into The Kanjoos, and they too are hits and misses. As with the comedic dialogue, when the slapstick hits, it indeed brings the house down with laughter. An instance of this is when Kok takes one of the bags of tea hanging on the backyard clothes line, proceeds to dip it a couple of times in Jaya’s cup of hot water, and then promptly hangs the tea bag once again to dry on the line! Letting the audience gauge Kajooswamy’s level of stinginess, coming to its own realisation by watching this scene as it unfolded, is pure comedy genius on the part of the director.

Jaya Lolita, played by veteran comedic actress Daisy Irani, succeeds in most of the slapstick moments as well as the witty culturally-based repartee between Tien-Tien and herself. Irani’s delivery of her lines is timed very well, and her tone and way of delivery often imbibe more hilarity into her speech than the script alone would have actually suggested. Playing to her strengths, Irani goads the audience into hysterics with her physical comedic talents as well, which include one scene of her pushing up her breasts before seducing Kanjooswamy into clearing her debt. 

Sharda Maxine Harrison, Simon Wong, Pavan J. Singh, Clarice Jena Luo, Gerald Chew, and Kamaruzzaman Bin Abdul Rahim all hold their own on stage against veterans Irani and Subaiah. Despite Subaiah stealing the spotlight easily with his natural acting style and ability to layer his portrayal efficaciously, these supporting actors and actresses make their own roles memorable, each of them giving a smooth and clear delivery of the dialogue coupled with appropriate emotions and facial expressions.

However, Jerry Hoh, who played the supporting character BG, comes across as flat and unnatural. Hoh appears restrained and uncomfortable, speaking his lines in a very controlled manner and not conveying much in terms of expressions or emotions. Even as Hoh walks and performs across the stage, he remains stiff and measured. 

The set by Wong Chee Wai is simple but effective, consisting of a backyard, a living room, and a study area. The lighting is a little off-kilter though, as Gerald Chew often has to walk into the spotlight to deliver his one-liners. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it is distracting, as is the constant bell signaling a comedic one-liner. The effect of the bell is novel for the first three or maybe four times, but after awhile it is being rung so regularly, it loses its meaning and appeal.

Also, it seems like a lot of the side stories were implanted into The Kanjoos just to add filler, and they didn’t really work. These asides, which include Chari’s friend Fatty Faiz (Kamaruzzaman Bin Abdul Rahim) trying to help Chari, and the undeveloped and much unexplored romances between Priya and Victor and between Chari and Tien-Tien, including BG’s part in the story, simply bog down the play as they don’t add anything in terms of humour and neither do they elevate the story further. The finale, which concludes on a very absurd revelation, seems misplaced and inconsistent as the rest of the play doesn’t quite reach the idiocy of the conclusion, thereby making the ending unfitting to the rest of the story. 

In addition, the dialogue on the whole is peppered with a lot of local quips, and one has to wonder if the expatriates in the audience managed to get all the jokes. Some of the types of humour are repeated too many times as well, for example comparing a current action to something in history – a valuable tool in comedic writing without a doubt, but not when it’s repeatedly used throughout the script!

Overall, The Kanjoos is average passable comedy, as the jokes are hit and miss and the story is interesting but unwieldy in places. However, the acting on the whole is good, and manages to raise this play above the dialogue and story, and for that alone it would be worth visiting The Kanjoos. Just don’t ask for any tea!

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.