WHEN a friend approached him last year to take over a play she was supposed to direct, theatre educator Sazali Othman jumped at the chance to take to a professional stage again.
After all, he had been out of the scene for a while, working at local art schools over the last decade. Taking on American playwright Neil Simon's Rumors would be a welcome change from teaching and directing school productions.
But what he didn't know at that time was that his friend Christina Sergeant, a well-known theatre director and educator based in Singapore, would die this February after a heart attack.
"Her passing was very unexpected, and I still don't know the reason why she gave it to me. She just said she didn't think she would be able to do it," says 39-year-old Othman, who is currently teaching at School of The Arts (Sota). "I guess it was just coincidence but I'm glad I took the job, otherwise she might have passed on without knowing who was going to direct her play."
Rumors tells the story of a dinner party originally set in New York City, where the deputy mayor and his wife have invited guests to their home to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. Things go awry when the guests arrive and find the man upstairs with a bullet-hole through his earlobe, and his wife and servants missing.
This is not your garden-variety whodunit, as solving the mystery is not the focus of this show. Instead, the spotlight is on the way the guests react to the situation and how they come up with ludicrous schemes to keep it under wraps from the police and local media.
According to Othman, his version will be set in modern-day Delhi instead of 1980s New York, as most of the cast members are Indian, and it would make the play much more believable. It would also help bring the play closer to the Singapore context and make it more relatable for local audiences, while maintaining a similar political scene and gun law as that of the United States.
"The thing is in Singapore you can't have guns at all, unless it's with special permission. But in Delhi, there are ways to get a gun. It's not that there are no laws, but it's just not impossible to get one there. So more work would need to be done if we set the play in Singapore, we'd have to adapt it more," he explains.
And if there is one thing that Mr Othman wants to minimise, it's the editing of Simon's fast-paced and witty script, which he believes deserves to be staged as close to the original as possible.
"Neil Simon is famous for the way he writes plays, with a fast-paced comic dialogue. It's like Shakespeare - editing Shakespeare would make it less impactful than it really is. People will want to come and watch his play because of the way he wrote it. So I want to preserve that," he says.
'Rumors' will be on at the DBS Arts Centre on Oct 18 at 7.30pm and Oct 19 at 3pm and 7.30pm. Tickets cost $30 and $50, with concession prices available. Log on to www.sistic.com.sg for more information or to purchase tickets