>reviewed by james koh

>date: 26 jan 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the velvet underground
>rating: **

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Let me say right from the start that I really wanted to like this performance. It had so much going for it - a sexy and sex-filled underground where 7 people (6 women and 1 man) are brave enough to tell their stories, true stories about failed relationships, unrequited love and suicide. Like the gold engraved plate of the Chinese character 'xin' ('heart') hung on the wall of the Velvet Underground, the play promised to reveal the emotional turmoil that throbbed underneath the strobbing disco lights, the humanity that resides in this mass of slaves to the hip parade. In other words, it could have dismantled the facile world that most of us inhabit, revealing the surging world of passion and unresolved pain beneath.

It could have been a trashy show - one which played up its excesses with a comic intelligence, yet underscoring the events with touching and affecting anecdotes about the little earthquakes and ephemeral triumphs of love and life.

Or like last year's staging of the wonderful 'Lovepuke', it could have been a polished performance, one which would capture the minds of the audience with playful knowingness and self-referentiality, at the same time having many wise and insightful things to say about relationships and the machinations and stratagems with which love operates.

What it should not have been was what it was in the end: an amateurishly middle-of-the-road affair that lacked dramatic energy and which waffled its way through the usual banal and trite observations of love and life. For all the breeziness in the way the characters discussed sex, for all the success it had in blurring the distinction between fact and fiction, this was an emotionally inert and strangely remote affair.

>>'To our dismay, this performance showed that perhaps our stories are sometimes not worth telling'

One reason for this was that LOOKING FOR LOVE had a fragmented structure that split the 4 main narratives into so many small scenes that none of the narratives gained any dramatic impetus. Scenes that could have transcended the ordinary were simply not given the chance to develop. And any chance for the audience to connect and therefore empathise with a character was denied as the play kept on lurching forward. This surfeit of constant cuts in the play all too soon resulted in an attitude of indifference in the audience, too preoccupied in keeping up with the disjointed script to really care for the characters in the end.

Moreover, there was no tangible chemistry between the 6 female leads, an absence of emotional friction or dramatic tension. There was hardly a sense of passion simmering beneath the actresses as they related to each other, and perhaps it was this lack of potent intimacy that made the performance clinical and sterile.

The script was predictable enough and meandered its way to an undramatic ending. Yet instead of exploring the sexual politics in Singapore, the script seemed content to just simply tell its stories, stories which despite having gone through a dramatic overhaul, had a sense of mediocrity, of having seen-and-heard-it-all-before - a state that proved deeply unsatisfying.

It also did not help that the script suffered from lines which when given to the audience, the audience simply didn't know what to do with them. How do you react to a line like 'Love is like cheese dip - too much of it and its bad for your figure'? Laugh? Treat it seriously? Ignore? Or just cringe? And its use of cliches was sometimes too cloying. Like having a character (who was a singer) perform the corny song 'If' after having failed in her relationship with her lover, and then breaking down halfway into the song, too wrought with tears to carry on.

The fact that this is obviously a labour of love for the actors cannot be denied. Yet there is an axiom that goes something like 'the difficulty of acting oneself is that you can ever only act yourself but never be yourself. Though there were exceptions - Sudha Menon was adept as the brassy 'husband-stealer' and Faith Lew as the ever-so-nice Christine was hysterically funny - this was true for most of the cast. In fact, some of the actors had a tendency to over-act, to exaggerate the pathos inherent in their mini-tragedies that it came across as a form of surreal bathos.

Based on true stories, LOOKING FOR LOVE could have been a performance by ordinary people telling their stories. And these stories, because they are about real people, about 'common people', they also become our stories, told to us by ourselves and ultimately for ourselves. But to our dismay, this performance showed that perhaps our stories are sometimes not worth telling.