>WIT by ACTION Theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 16 sep 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>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.


My General Paper tutor used to chide me in the margins of my essay with incessant markings of "KISS" - short for "Keep It Simple, Stupid". He constantly reminded me that it takes skill and courage to write in simple English, not to hide behind grandiloquent falsities.

I'm sure he would have had a great time at WIT (bless his soul in heaven).

Not only was WIT a showcase of skill and courage, it contained an element that elevated it beyond superlatives - truth. Simple truth. From the start, WIT's startling emotional honesty made every revelation hurt in its glaring clarity, each personal tragedy intimately our own. Stanislavsky said before that a good actor foremost must have "the feelings for truth" - that in it is "contained the best possible defense against stage falsehood… and the sincerity of artistic feeling".

Or the play probably said it even better - what matters "is not wit. It is truth"

But lest you confuse simple with simplistic, WIT was certainly no walk in the park. Fiercely intellectual and stubbornly seeped in literary jargons and word play, it was the English language at its best - all seductively sharp and tantalizingly cutting. Every word pulled no punches and no time was wasted in letting the puns fly fast and furious. Every visual image counted, each contortion of pain all so visible.

>>'each line took the breath out of some of us as if we got punched in the face by the onslaught of metaphorical slaps'

With a red cap on her very bare head, Sandy Phillips stood in her hospital gown before the audience attached to an IV tube - mortally wounded but majestically proud. The entire play would rest gallantly on that image of the proud warrior. Wry irony sustained the energy level throughout the play with sardonic wit, so very dry and biting - humour all the more delicious coming from a dying academic's mouth. Delightful comic timing and careful choreography made sure no punch lines were wasted. Puns appeared with such amazing alacrity that whenever I tried to scribble something in my notebook, laughter engulfed me as I realised another joke had just flown by me. Delicious connotations were conjured up in the audience's heads as each insidious subversion from her mouth made its pernicious intrusion into our minds.

Sandy Phillips as Vivian Bearings wore the role beautifully, chewing up everybody in sight one moment and being vulnerable the next - make no mistakes about it, it's her party and she can cry if she wants to, alright? Brittle yet tough as nails, she was wonderful as the hermit marooned in her land of esoteric knowledge - so high up in her tower of Babel that she no longer remembers the common language of humanity. At times wickedly snobbish and at times pathetically lonesome, Sandy played the irony of her character all so admirably well.

"I started noticing my body" - the shift of her focus from the mind to the body heralds the change in Bearings as she starts to acknowledge the deafening shrill of her mortality. As she slips from dominance to dependence, Nurse Susie steps in to bridge the gap between her academic stoicism and her increasing need for that human touch. As Susie, Deborah Png illuminated the stage with her kindness and warmth. Using only simple gestures and facial expressions, she brought to Nurse Susie a quiet dignity that spoke volumes. She might have been overshadowed by the highbrow conventions circulating around her but her subtleties were just as illuminating.

During the treatment, the doctor stated that she "must be very strong". Yet he needn't have worried for the play was indeed made of tougher material than its physical manifestation. With only a stretch of clinical white cloth as the main set, the limitations of this barrenness made it clear that responsibility weighed heavily on the shoulders of Sandy in transcending the set and while it was fortunate that she did a marvelous job, really, the set could have been invested more imagination to complement and support the actor and the script more ably.

I could go on and on and on about the incredibly intelligent script that made the audience laugh while tears streamed down their faces. I could tell you how each line took the breath out of some of us as if we got punched in the face by the onslaught of metaphorical slaps. I could describe how simplicity and beauty intertwined effortlessly throughout the night.

But really you have to see it for yourself. Hear those words. Feel those emotions. See the soul bare itself. And then when the play closes with that astounding imagery of human dignity and bravery, you will know why Bearing says that in face of humanity, death is but a comma.