>abuse suxxx!!! by the necessary stage

>reviewed by musa fazal

>date: 26 sep 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall, raffles hotel
>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.
 

>>>>>JUBILEE HELL IN JUBILEE HALL

To casually dismiss The Necessary Stage's latest production ABUSE SUXXX!!!! as merely "cute and funny", notwithstanding the generous doses of humour, just wouldn't do it justice. This play is quite shocking. Not because there are moments in the play when the pillars of the Jubilee Hall seem to shake with the sound of swearing, nor because there are men periodically kissing on stage. It is shocking because it is honest and it is real.

Conceptualised by Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan, ABUSE SUXXX!!! is a collage of stories, linked together by the underlying theme of abuse. Numerous forms of abuse are explored - sexual, verbal, psychological and social. Some of the stories are done in the form of a conventional narrative. Others are more "stylised", with less clarity being offered about the time and space in which the scenes are set, or even about who the characters are (or are supposed to represent). Occasionally, the actors emerge from the fabric of the play to address the audience as themselves, presenting true story accounts of their own lives perched from high up some cleverly used scaffolding like defendants in a trial.

At times the kind of abuse that is being explored is made fairly explicit. The play opens with a graphic account of a young girl's sexual encounter with an older man. Very often though the abuse is of a more subtle variety. The play is loaded with characters trapped in relationships in which they feel a sense of powerlessness; characters who seem quite aware of their shackles, but who feel nonetheless compelled to do nothing, to make no effort to liberate themselves from their own situations.

>>'It is humour deftly coupled with a certain sensitivity of writing that allows us to sieve out a sense of tragedy even from within the farcical exchange of fake melon breasts and a wig between two parting lesbians'

In one of the stories, Daniel, a gay man who is persuaded to have a change of heart about his sexuality, insists he has done the right thing because he has made God, his mother, his pastor, and his counsellor happy. Only after having gone through this list does he even venture the observation that he too is now happy. Set against the saccharine sounds of Bible music strumming softly in the background, these words come out sounding far too contrived to be honest, and the aftertaste will be bitter.

In several of the stories, the line between abuser and victim blurs. Consider for example one of the more stylised scenes in the play, which has two women who speak and act like children, but who seem to be locked in a relationship of mutual dependence for what appears to have been many years. One of these women keeps hearing voices that sing of freedom, and that plot ways of escape, but she finds herself unable to leave the devoted friend who wants to do everything together and share everything with her including her pillow.

Finally, in an act of desperation, she strangles her friend to death, then starts to dance having liberated herself from a suffocating relationship, and perhaps one could argue, having liberated her friend from an unhealthy over-dependence. But on another level, this act of "mercy-killing", done with a toy stethoscope her friend used to play with, and with almost no struggle involved, seems an abuse of an unconditional trust placed on her.

There is no doubt that this play, what with its incredibly talented cast, is extremely funny. What unites this play apart from its theme, is the use of humour that pervades every scene and every character. It isn't, however, as some have suggested, humour that is "cute". It is humour that is wicked and sharp, and that nudges us in the direction of subjects that we otherwise would not dare to broach. It is humour deftly coupled with a certain sensitivity of writing that allows us to sieve out a sense of tragedy even from within the farcical exchange of fake melon breasts and a wig between two parting lesbians.

Even the use of profanity in the play (which I admit at times seemed a tad excessive) is not altogether out of place in a play determined to assault so many taboos. Is it not taboo after all to think of a mother's love as a kind of abuse? Or to think of our religions, or dare I say it, God Himself, as being capable of inflicting abuse? Worst of all, to think of ourselves as abusers?

"Only through art," Marcel Proust once said, "can we see landscapes which would otherwise have remained unknown to us like the landscapes of the moon." ABUSE SUXXX!!! ends with the actors in a straight line, eyes filled with yearning, arms outstretched and beckoning. Beckoning perhaps, for us to enter their minds and consider the cavernous possibilities of a world, topsy-turvy through their eyes. No doubt it is a shocking reality.

But if I were you, I'd accept the invitation.