>SAFE IN THESE ARMS by Glass Theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 30 apr 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: guinness theatre
>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.
 

>>>>>a disappointment

It is not a play about AIDS.

So what is it about? About friendship? About love? About relationships in the twentieth century? About gay men and Madonna? About six months window periods? About sex? About the new nucleus family?

The truth is, the play is about these. And it is not about any of these.

Barely an hour long, the play tried its damn best to address the concerns it had on its mind. Opting for a friendlier style of narration, a sitcom "friends-all-living-together" feel was utilized to give it a lighter feel. Sets were kept to the minimum while the setting was kept perennially the living room of the HDB flat the characters stay in. They eat, sleep, make out and quarrel there - everywhere or anybody else just doesn't matter at all.

Using the sexual intrigues between the three leads as a wide canvas backdrop, the big question loomed ahead way before it even had a chance to be formed - will you still love someone who you can't have sex with? Each character will soon ponder the big question whether they like it or not, in situations they like or otherwise.

In the case of the three friends, Anthony, Darren and Stephanie, each of them has their own demons to face. Darren being closeted HIV positive has to learn to trust his two best friends with his secret. Anthony in love with his HIV positive boyfriend Michael has to live with the future of a sexless union. Stephanie is the little girl pining for love under all her slut pretensions. All are submerged in their painful need to be complete and we follow them on their journey towards revelation, as they fumble towards some form of closure.

At first glance, the premises of the play shone with the promise that somehow these complex interwoven issues could be developed fully and possibly deliver as envisioned. Yet due to a mess of problems ranging from the lackluster performance from the actors and the uneven texture of the script itself, the play fell short of what it could have been.

>>'many of the jokes showed the cleverness of the playwright but really nothing more'

The first thing that went wrong was the Madonna-and-Rupert rapport that was painfully built up between Anthony(Bruce San) and Stephanie(Bao Ying). The intimate girlfriend bond that existed with Madonna and Rupert was believable not because Rupert is gay in real life but rather beneath the bitching and men-ogling, it was clear that the friendship was about a guy and a girl - not between two girls. For Bruce and Bao Ying, it became a perpetual slumber party where every minute was about girl talk, bitching about men and moping over tragic love lives over ice cream. Sure it was funny - the broken wrist, the limp hair and the theatrical diva poses. Yet that was all, being funny - as funny as any other caricature. There is a myriad of ways to play a gay character, play him as a faggot or play him as he is - gay.

Bao Ying playing Stephanie was sassy enough as the sultry vixen constantly in heat but she suffered a bad case of performance anxieties. Looking somewhat awkward at times and stumbling her lines at others, she lapsed into Bao Ying playing Stephanie rather than just being Stephanie. Thus some of her sexual gusto seemed created through effort - whereas for Stephanie it would have just come naturally.

With the two leads faltering, it was fortunate that James Seow playing Darren was a lot steadier than his co-partners. Confident and at ease with his role, James had no problems that night and was thus able to deliver a credible performance.

With such dodgy delivery, the lines itself became dubious in itself. Lines that could have been so funny came off skewed and misdirected. The only jokes that really did strike a chord were the Evita jokes and the other one about "six reasons to watch Charmed" - the others were either dubiously funny or just plain dubious.

The uneven script also contributed to the workshop feel of the night. From unpolished jokes to undeveloped plots, the script showed that it could have been so much more rather it delivered that night. Yet many of the jokes showed the cleverness of the playwright but really nothing more and the play ended abruptly when many issues were unexplored and unresolved. At times, the play became didactic with Action for AIDS lines like "you must wait six months for your window period" being much too informative for me. From flippant irrelevant satire to somber discussions about AIDS, the transition was not smooth enough to squash the jarring disjoint constantly felt in the play.

The tragedy of the night was not the poor delivery or inconsistent script but rather the fact that the play obviously deserved more than it was given. From the sets to the acting to the final script, the play was crying out for deliberation and a lot more thought. With the promise of a newer way at looking at the AIDS epidemic, the play could have herald a new beginning in theatre where AIDS is not the end but rather a fact of people's lives they have to deal with. The position of Darren as the straight man with AIDS was unique in its subversive stance that AIDS is relevant to not only gay men but to anybody who engages in sexual activities.

Yes the play was funny, make no mistakes about it. Yet with the acrobatic juggling of the issues, all issues were touched but none really explored and fully developed. With the din over Bruce's "I-thought-I-was-Emily" theatrics, the real message got lost somewhere in the frivolousness.

When leaving the theatre, all I could really remember was Bruce crying over Evita - that really shouldn't have been the case.