27 April 2014 by Adeline Lum CM-
On 19th of April, the Grace Convention Centre held a penetrating Easter musical drama, which juxtaposed the hatred and cruelty of the Japanese occupation in Malaya, with the love and forgiveness, possible in the Son of God.
Directed by renowned Artistic Director of Pan Productions Nell Ng with musical composer Paul M. Baker, ‘The Rising Son’ boasts 35-production-cast and 24 musicians who delivered a riveting play with several striking themes; one that is most pronounced is the power of love versus hate.
Set against the period of World War 2, the story began with a deep philia love (a friendship kind of love) between three good friends who wanted to start a coffee house business. But the relationship turned sour when one of them stole money and disappeared, having set up the two remaining friends—Ah Ming and Ah Chong—against each other with an accusatory letter of the crime.
Ironically, the son Ah Cheng and daughter Cui Fei of these two friends developed an eros love (a passionate and emotional kind of love) with each other, painfully hidden from their parents’ sight.
And so, having no solution of their parents’ irreconcilable feud, Ah Cheng seek advice of a priest, Father Pat who personified the love of Christ in an agape love (a selfless altruistic kind of love) towards him. This love is shown at the end when Father Pat voluntarily took the blame for Ah Cheng who accidentally murdered a Japanese soldier while defending his beloved Cui Fei from attempted rape.
Perhaps, the most striking contrast of these different kinds of love is the hatred and brutality shown in Captain Yashimoto who constantly threatens to kill anyone defiant of his authority. His loyalty towards his God, which is the Japanese Emperor in the play, results in a revengeful and unforgiving spirit; one that causes him to commit suicide upon the proclamation of Japan’s surrender, rather than acceptance of defeat and forgiveness.
This hatred is distinct with the God that Father Pat worshipped, whose grace has allowed Father Pat to forgive the captain even before his appointed execution. And such agape love has touched Ah Cheng so much that he decides to turn himself in to Captain Yashimoto to save Father Pat. At this point, Ah Cheng finally understands the agape love of God that Father Pat spoke about. Through Father Pat’s sacrificial love for him, he understands the sacrificial death of Christ for all mankind so that we can have eternal life with God in Heaven.
But Captain Yashimoto decided that both Father Pat and Ah Cheng should face execution, though both embraced their impending doom with transcending peace and courage from knowing the one true God. In their hopeless and defeating situation, Ah Cheng and Father Pat found their hope and victory in Christ, akin to how Paul and Silas in imprisonment found their hope and victory in God.
In fact, Ah Cheng’s fierce and genuine love of defending Cui Fei made Ah Ming and Ah Chong realized that true love could overcome any obstacles, including years of anger and hatred towards one another. Running down to the marketplace to comfort the distraught Cui Fei who bid her final farewell to Ah Cheng, Ah Ming and Ah Chong met and decided to forgive each other of all the wrongdoings with a reconciling embrace.
We are reminded here how knowing the love of God can cover every misunderstanding, wrongdoing or sin of an offender. But an unforgiving and revengeful spirit due to pride, on the other hand, would only cause unnecessary pain—not only to oneself but also to our loved ones—which we can see in Ah Cheng and Cui Fei who suffered because of their parents’ feud.
How true is this in our real life as well; forgiveness cost nothing, yet many people choose not to give each other this precious gift.
The character Father Pat also cleverly showed who God is to the audience. In the beginning of the play, the musical ensemble sang Sleep, my friend, which is a comforting message of God to Father Pat. To us as believers, God is our friend; our sure hope and joy even when no one is our friend.
And while Father Pat explained to Ah Cheng how even the most difficult family feud can find forgiveness and reconciliation, the biblical story of how Joseph was also seamlessly interwoven at this point to tell how he too forgave his brothers made possible in God, through an entertaining musical scene. Because our God is full of mercy and forgiveness, He desires that we too offer mercy and forgiveness to our offenders.
The best part comes at the end; while the audience thought that Father Pat and Ah Cheng had to die, the play has a happy ending after all, much to the audience’s delight.
Set on August 14th, 1945 when the Japanese occupation officially surrendered, Ah Cheng and Father Pat were released from prison; Ah Ming and Ah Chong gained complete reconciliation having found their disappearing friend’s letter confessing of his accusation; and finally, Ah Cheng and Cui Fei got married by Father Pat. In short, all of them lived happily ever after.
As believers in Christ, we also know that happy-ever-after does exist if we believe in Christ who died in the cross for us, and rose again on the third day.
A brilliant production, Grace Convention Centre has brought their message of love and forgiveness clearly and strongly through their witty script, sprightly music, and talented production cast, set against an impressive backdrop of the ubiquitous coffee shop we see in Chinatown.
Director Nell Ng has directed much of Pan’s fondly remembered debut Always in Wonderland and other critically acclaimed productions of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Ox, Mel Brooks’ The Producers and most recently, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Singapore.
Musical Composer Paul Baker has been a performing arts professional for over 30 years, having played for the British Royal Family and performed in many leading orchestras including The Bournemouth Symphony, The Royal Philharmonic, and the Welsh National Opera. ‘The Rising Son’ is Paul’s first full length musical.
Lastly, the main cast—Samuel Tseu as Ah Ming, Joshua Ben David as Ah Chong, Elder Garry Alan Prior of St Andrew Prebysterian Church as Father Pat, Benjamin Ng as Ah Cheng, Tan Ton Lynn as Cui Fei, Dennis Yap as Captain Yashimoto—are all experienced and professional theatrical actors as well.
Deeply engaging and enriching, ‘The Rising Son’ has left an unforgettable mark on the audience, to ponder and think whether remnants of forgiveness exist in the crevices of their hearts. And the power of God’s agape love can cover all.