Teater Koma: 40 Years In Motion



“Men are not smart enough.

There's nothing much that we have -

Skills of lying, deceiving."

Despite the ups and downs they have gone through over the course of four decades, Teater Koma never ceases to offer something worth-watching to theatergoers. The latest one was a play titled Opera Ikan Asin (Salted Fish Opera), restaged to mark this renowned theater group’s 40th anniversary. The play, which had been performed twice in 1983 and 1999, was presented once again this year, from March 2 to 5, at Ciputra Artpreneur, South Jakarta, in collaboration with Bakti Budaya Djarum Foundation.


Directed by Nano Riantiarno, Opera Ikan Asin was based on Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera—also an adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay back in 1728. With the aim of getting the issues closer to Indonesians, Riantiarno changed the setting from London in the 19th century to Batavia in the 20th century. Livening up the stage were the thirteen songs performed by the actors, with music originally composed by Kurt Weill and arranged this time by Fero A. Stefanus. Music, according to Riantiarno, has always been one of the pillars in the Brecht’s dramas as he used it to comment on the events in the play.

"Why Opera Ikan Asin?" Riantiarno said in the show's booklet, "What comes to mind when we hear the word 'salted fish'? People from all layers of society love them and feel familiar with them. They do stink, but people crave them. The cheap one represents the lower society and the expensive ones represent the opposite. These are two kinds of power that will grow stronger if unite, but they can also be oil and fire."


The plot centers around the life of a bandit king named Mekhit a.k.a Mat Piso (Rangga Riantiarno), who marries Poli Picum (Sekar Dewantari), the daughter of Batavia’s lord of beggars Natasasmita Picum  (Budi Rod) without his consent. Enraged by the news, he comes up with a scheme to separate her daughter from Mekhit; that is, to throw him into to jail, with a favor from his wife (Netta Kusumah Dewi) and his connections. Turns out, police commissioner Kartamarma is Mekhit’s close friend. Though having been sent to prison, he manages to break free because of Kartamarma. Threatened by Natasasmita, who will send a troupe of beggars to swarm around the streets to ruin the new general governor’s inauguration, Kartamarma has no choice but to arrest Mekhit.


Thirty four years have passed since the play was first staged, and yet the issues brought up are still relevant to today’s society: endless poverty, bribery, bandits considered as heroes, the law that can be manipulated for the sake of those with greater power, and the ‘mutual’ relationship between bandits and police. This could be the reason why there was not a change in the script; Riantiarno sees that there’s not much improvement in the society, even until today.