Two Malaysian screenwriters are out to take the world by storm with the perfect American film – even if by the world, they mean the United States. Having spent decades being bombarded by American pop culture, they think they know exactly what the perfect American film entails. Total cultural immersion must surely count for something, right?
But wait, should this perfect American film be the contemplative arthouse title that America needs, or the high-octane, action-packed and gun-toting blockbuster that it wants?
Heck, these two guys pride themselves on knowing America as well as the back of their hands, but perhaps things are not as straightforward as they seem.
TerryandTheCuz’s newest theatre production Thicker Than Water dives into the deep end with its dissection on how we, as outsiders, gleefully consume American culture in all its shapes and forms, and how this informs our idea of what the “true” America is.
Starring actor/comedian Douglas Lim and fimmaker/writer/director Gavin Yap as these screenwriters, it is slated to run at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater in New York in May next year, the first fully-produced Malaysian show to premiere off-Broadway.
“No company in Malaysia has been given this opportunity to stage something at The Public before. We are really excited about it and we are determined to knock people off their feet,” says co-writer and co-director Terence Conrad, one half of TerryandTheCuz.
He muses that even though The Public had expressed interest in having them perform there, when they first crossed paths back in 2015 at the International Society of Performing Arts in New York, it felt like something too good to be true.
“We thought it was one of those things, where you shake hands, part ways, and never hear from them again. But then earlier this year they got back to us, saying that they have a slot for us in May!” he beams.
The team behind productions like Klue, Doh!, The Bee Project and SK!N, was ecstatic to say the least.
They have been toying with the show’s concept for the last five years or so, but work only started in earnest about six months ago when they got the confirmation from The Public Theater.
Along with a resolution to present the best possible version of Thicker Than Water comes an open approach to tweaks and amendments. So as part of the creative development, the show will be presented on home turf ahead of its New York premiere next year, at Publika in Kuala Lumpur, starting Nov 28, with audience feedback playing a critical part in the further refinement of the production.
It sounds like a bit of a daunting task, this project that not only hinges on our perspective of America based on how America enthusiastically extols itself to the outside world, but also taking this outsider’s perspective and showing it to America.
“We don’t often realise just how much exposure to American culture we get here. We know their politics, we know their celebrities … they can’t believe we know Knight Rider or Baywatch, but we do. Their greatest export is their culture, it is just insane how well they do it. The show comes from a place of truth and the more you watch it, the more you are going to laugh,” says Conrad.
Thicker Than Water is created and designed by TerryandTheCuz, co-directed with Martin Blum, and co-written
with Blum, Mark Leonard Winter and Chris Ryan. All these collaborators are Australian and initial stages of the work was developed at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne.
Thicker Than Water, says Conrad, is not afraid to tackle hard-hitting topics. But it strives to do so with biting wit, humour and impeccable comedic timing.
There will be a supporting cast representing different facets of American society, but they are keeping mum on exactly how they fit in or where they come in.
“It is an interesting approach in that unlike other shows, the less you know about what is in store for you, the better it is. The one thing you can expect though is that you will be thoroughly entertained and have a really good time,” says Yap, who plays the quintessential tortured artist who is willing to go to the ends of the earth for his art.
In contrast, Lim takes on the smooth-talking, business-minded guy with one eye on Hollywood and the other on the fame and fortune he is adamant will come with it.
“I do things in this show that I would never even dream of doing as Douglas Lim. I think it will be a really nice, really fun, watch for audiences both in Malaysia and in the United States. I am excited, yeah, but I am also feeling the pressure knowing that I will be acting alongside trained actors in New York. But as long as people keep telling me I am good, I think I will be ok,” he deadpans.
This will be Lim’s first foray into the US arts scene. Thicker Than Water will play in New York from May 16-20 next year.