>VIVA VIAGRA by ACTION Theatre

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 29 jul 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>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.
 

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What is Theatre for?

The way I see it, there are two opposing camps in the world with different answers to that question. The first camp proposes, "Theatre is there to challenge." Its members tend to drink a lot of espresso and don't bathe often enough. The second camp rebuts them thusly: "No, theatre is there to entertain." The proponents of this view generally have fashionable shoes and constitute the entire viewership of TCS 5.

The minions of the Challenge sect have been in the ascendancy on our fair island lately, their dark plans spurred on by the multicultural orgy that was the Arts Fest; but with VIVA VIAGRA, ACTION Theatre has (as ever) struck a blow for the broad church of Entertainment - and a timely one at that. I've been seeing a lot of new or experimental performances recently and I was beginning to think that the future of our beloved art form lay in coming out of the theatre wondering what it was all about. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but it was nice for a change to see a local production that had gone through the traditional processes of crafting - the honing of plot, characters and dialogue - that Aristotle himself would have approved of.

>>'ACTION Theatre has (as ever) struck a blow for the broad church of Entertainment'

Not that VIVA was perfect, but there was a lot to be said for it, and it certainly succeeded in entertaining its audience.

Ovidia Yu's script, which charted the influence of the little blue pill on two couples - one young, the other middle-aged - was consistently funny. The occasional laugh-out-loud moment was underscored by a more or less permanent state of adolescent grinning at the bawdiness of the material. The comedy was not monotone, though, as Yu was accomplished enough to produce three types of humour: funny lines, funny situations and funny characters. However, at some points, one was left wondering how many shares she had bought in Viagra Inc: some of it came over as a sales pitch and the play was prone to a rather dry documentary approach, with a few too many heavy-handed facts thrown in. This was particularly true with regard to Gerald Chew's character, the young and alliterative Doctor Dan, who could have been replaced by a textbook with floppy hair.

In contrast, though, the older characters were deliciously fully rounded. Loke Loo Pin further fleshed out her amorous fifty-something widow with moments of priceless deadpan comic timing. That some of her other lines were a little overplayed mattered very little, especially when she managed to deal sensitively with the more serious scenes as well. But it was Sandy Phillips who - despite playing an abstract concept - brought her character most to life. Yu's already naturalistic lines were at their most sayable under her impressive vocal expressiveness - and as far body language goes, she put the 'grrr' in Viagra and the 'funk' in male erectile dysfunction.

Ekachai Uekrongtham's direction was solid as a pill-fuelled member for the most part, being well paced and unobtrusive, but it sank into flaccidity in the script's tender moments. A couple of scenes between mother and daughter Emma Yong and Loke Loo Pin, were rendered quite floppy by the unwelcome superimposition of some kind of piano muzak, suggestive of daytime soaps. And his treatment of Juwanda Hassim and Desmond Charles' characters - men on the street trying out Viagra - was perhaps a little indulgent: their musical mantra "Half hour's good, two hours better" was funny at first, but not at seventh or eighth.

I certainly walked away from VIVA VIAGRA feeling entertained (and more than a little informed), but then, I didn't have to pay for tickets. Considering the prices ranged from $25 for matinees to $42 for peak time performances, and that the running time of the play was barely more than an hour, the play worked out at several cents a minute too many for my liking. One of the drawbacks of populist theatre, I would suggest, is that it has to be seen to give value for money - it is, after all, competing with that cheap little black box in the living room. No one is questioning the quality of VIVA - but you can have too little of a good thing.