>PAINTED STORIES (PART ONE) by Action Theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 13 jun 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: 42 waterloo street
>rating: ***1/2

>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.
 

>>>>>FACES OF EVE

>"500 Marilyns" (***)

I never quite understood the logic of Marilyn Monroe mania.

Sure she was pretty and sultry, sexy in a whore meets girl-next-door (depending on which neighborhood you actually live in) way. Those calculated poses, manufactured smiles and all-so-obvious cleavage cabaret shows - I just never got why the world seemed so fixated on such an ersatz self-made idol. But then again I don't quite understand the cult of Madonna either …

But at 500 MARILYNS I finally got a glimpse of the allure of this goddess we call Marilyn Monroe. Director Tan Boon Hui cleverly opened the play with the Marilyn the world knows only too well - the singsong dancing Barbie doll Marilyn. All the songs were there, all the celebrated poses and even the Andy Warhol print that made Marilyn into the pop icon that she was always meant to be. The audience were treated to five actress playing different facets of Marilyn, all singing "Diamond are a girl's best friend" and doing chest thrust while blowing kisses in the air. The songs ranged from the cute to the nonsensically frivolous but all detailing the colourful life she had. Arthur Miller, JFK and other famous names flew fast and thick while the actresses pranced around in rose red gowns.

The mood was kept intentionally lucid (though sometimes veering on the inane) as the individual Marilyns broke into Malay, Japanese, Indian and even Beijing Opera to narrate her tumultuous past. The Marilyns teased with their flirtatious banter, provoking the audience to think about how her life could have been different if she had taken a different step - " Can you imagine me being the first lady?" At the same time each Marilyn tried to flesh out their distinct personality with their signature lines and distinct disposition. At the start, the five actress were a muddled mess with their identical wigs and gowns - how do you tell who's who in this Where's-Wally-mess? I heaved a sigh of relief when the actresses got warmed up enough to differentiate themselves from one another and after a while it was a less tedious process.

>>'The richness of the script was further enhanced by the caustic wit of the exchange between the narrator and Josephine'

The second part to the play drastically switched moods as the Marilyns took turns to reflect about her life. Pensive monologues of inner emotions soon followed but thankfully it didn't become 500 MONOLGUES instead. The introspective musings were kept succinct and poignant, careful not to lose the audience's attention.

It was a good mix and instead of the two segments being jarring they complemented each other by enhancing the other's potency. Without the glamour of the Film Star Marilyn, it would have been hard to truly understand why the hollowness of her personal life had greater resonance in the still of the night. The five Marilyns were equally a good mix of talents especially when the synergy of these five actresses fused together to create a startling recreation of Marilyn. Like voices in our own head, they gave her a greater complexity and made the audience realise that beneath the bimbotic poses and airhead veneer, Marilyn Monroe was just as complex as anybody else - simply because she was human. The five Marilyns became the production's cynosure, as each was a perfect foil to each other but at the same time, flip sides of the same American dream.

Among all the Marilyns, Haslynda Dahlan and Sesy Liana impressed with their stellar performances. Both displayed a wide emotive range that wasn't confined by their character delimits. Besides playing their assigned roles of "Real Deal Norma" and "Goddess Marilyn", they went further and injected their roles with humanity and warmth. As such, at certain parts of the performance, it almost seemed like they were offering not just various sides of Marilyn but rather the Marilyn within.

>"Hopper's Women" (****)

After fending off the five Marilyns (and nightmarish delusions of being cornered by the fembots ala Austin Powers), I wasn't sure I had the stamina to face another six HOPPER'S WOMEN.

Inspired by Edward Hopper's paintings, Jean Tay and Cindy Koh's six vignettes are a farrago of the sad, the funny and the plain tragic. As the chorus narrating these tales, Hopper's lonely paintings told the tales nobody heard of, alternative voices calling out from the canvas. Obviously some of the interpretations worked better than the others but again as a whole, HOPPER'S WOMEN was an amazing insight into the psyche of the Woman.

NUNTHELESS, WALTZING MATILDA and HOPPER'S WOMAN were the strongest pieces in the ensemble. It was telling that out of the three, two featured the brilliant actress Pamela Oei who was simply breathtaking in both her roles in NUNTHELESS AND HOPPER'S WOMAN. In NUNTHELESS, she was a one woman comic machine as she became the Flipino Catholic nun taking a train to a cathedral in Manila. With her spot-on Filpino accent and hilarious mannerisms, she tickled the audience silly with her brilliant comic timing. Relentlessly funny, Pamela's comic timing was immaculate and razor sharp. From her bizarre anecdotes of peeing in the President's garden to her first lesbian kiss, it was a wacky joyride for the audience. Coupled with Cindy Koh's equally dazzling script, NUNTHELESS proved that comedy need not pander to the lowest denominator of humour - all we need is talent.

Jean Tay scored a double whammy with WALTZING MATILDA and HOPPER's WOMAN. However it was disappointing that although WALTZING MATILDA shone with great promise, it was marred by the script's propensity to meander and also the casting of Corinne Yeo. Shimmering with irony, WALTZING MATILDA was original and funny as it evoked the audience as part of the performance. In a nod to the presence of so many eyes staring at the actors, lines like "Don't you see them? Roles and roles of them staring!" toyed with the limits of the fourth wall and broke into postmodern terrain without any side effects of alienation. This reached its peak when Angie(Corrine Yeo) shoots one of the "audience" while she jabbers on the phone. It is unfortunate that such a potentially powerful play was rendered impotent at the hands of Corrine Yeo. Sometimes in a blind frenzy but most of the time simply stuck in emotional inertia, the complex role of the schizophrenic girl suffering from delusions was translated into the cardboard loony bin character by her inadequacy.

In HOPPER'S WOMAN, Jean Tay's multi-layered scripts were finally given the treatment they deserved as Pamela Oei took over as Edward Hopper's wife, Josephine Hopper. It is particularly admirable that Jean didn't take the easy way and narrate the tale simply from the view of the dejected wife. The relationship between Josephine and Edward Hopper was as complex as the two painters and Jean had the artistic courage to weave in contradictary accounts of their troubled domestic life and yet arrive at truth on stage. At the same time, the narrator is challenged by Josephine on his claims of the single absolute truth. Their history is but a synthesis of truths, the binary of their lives. As Caleb Goh questions "Who is the narrator around here?", Josephine stands tall as she ask for a fair representation. At the same time the analogy of the painter and the subject is brought in as the role of the narrator is juxtaposed with the artist. The richness of the script was further enhanced by the caustic wit of the exchange between the narrator and Josephine. Caleb playing the narrator dived into the role with gusto and brought a greater dimension to a role which had a large potential for being played flat.

It would probably be in bad form to gush again about Oei's performance. Stanislavsky once said that great acting will come at the moment of truth in the actor's feelings and unltimately on stage - when she yelled "This is not about Art, this is about truth!" I couldn't agree with her more. Billed as a "Womanist" festival, the first installment of PAINTED STORIES was devoid of Angry Women and all the better for that. In place of the missing angst and trenchant calls for segregation, there was an added touch of understanding and sensitivity. While men and women might still come from different planets, maybe in the distant future, men might want to paint their wives rather than a series of houses as Edward Hopper had.