The translations are based on texts, not performances, and were done in two stages: a direct translation from Javanese into English by Pandam Guritno, followed by a reworking by Brandon into idiomatic English. This has produced accessible and unexpectedly involving plays.
The three plays illustrate the variety of mood and subject possible within the same formal structure, using standard elements. The Reincarnation of Rama involves mystical wahyu or gifts — infusion by the spirits of Rama and Leksmana — being bestowed on righteous kings; it doesn't have much in the way of tension or drama. Irawan's Wedding is a farcical comedy, involving a princess who is promised in marriage to two princes, one Pandawa and one Kurawa, and lusted after by an ogre king. The Death of Karna is much more serious, describing the tragic death of Karna at the hands of Arjuna, at the climax of the Great War between the Pandawa and Kurawa.
On Thrones of Gold is plentifully illustrated with halftone "screenshots" illustrating the action and disposition of the puppets in key scenes. A few colour plates give a feel for the appearance of the puppets themselves. And stage instructions explain something of the puppet movements and musical changes.
Three raps; the gamelan plays the melody Gendu. The KAJON is moved to the right of the screen. The powerful figure of BIMA strides on from the right, rear arm akimbo. He gestures off left. GAGAKBENGKOL, KENDANGGUMULUNG, and PODANGBINOREHAN enter separately, make the sembah, and sit respectfully before BIMA. The dalang raps three times; the music softens.
On Thrones of Gold is an essential book for anyone seriously interested in wayang. It would also make a good introduction to Javanese shadow theatre: it is no replacement for videos or live performances, but a useful complement to them.
- Related reviews:
- Alit Djajasoebrata - Shadow Theatre in Java: The Puppets, Performance and Repertoire
- books about Java + Javanese culture
- books about performance
- more world literature
- books published by University of Hawaii Press