On the back of four-star reviews of his latest play, The Weight of Silk on Skin, back in Singapore, Huzir Sulaiman's Cogito is finally slated for its Australian premiere. Time Out spoke to its director, Suzie Hardgrave
The production had its genesis in a program called the Asian Playwrights Meeting, which in 2011 was hosted by the Arts Centre Melbourne with support from the Victorian College of the Arts and Za-Koenji Theatre, Tokyo. That meeting was an opportunity for international artists to meet with local directors for workshops and play readings. It was there that Hardgrave, at the time a student in the VCA's Postgraduate Diploma in Performance Creation, first met Sulaiman, a Malaysian actor and playwright who has worked extensively in Singapore, and discovered his play Cogito.
The play is a cerebral, sci-fi, philosophical thriller, elaborating the Cartesian cogito, "I think, therefore I am", for a twenty-first century where the human mind can be replicated by computers. The year is 2026, and two women named Katherine Lee have just discovered that they share the same memories, the same personality and the same recently deceased husband, Tony Szeto. Both women carry the memories, downloaded from a central computer, of a woman who died in a terrorist attack on a high-speed train.
The play, which premiered internationally in 2007, is quite a stark piece where the drama happens mostly on a conceptual level. But what stands out is the seductive poetry of the language. "The beautiful thing about Huzir as a playwright," says Hardgrave, "is that he marries this complex almost academic narrative with a beautiful, poetic and intensely human quality."
Sulaiman has said that, while Cogito is in some senses quite emotionally detached, it is also about a sense of grief and loss inherent in the post-modern condition. "That’s something that I’ve been experiencing both myself and through other people [...] So the play is very much a reflection of my concerns now, on both an intellectual and emotional level.”
Cogito, La Mama, 9-19 Feb. Wed, Fri & Sun 8.30pm; Thu & Sat 6.30pm.