>THE COFFIN IS TOO BIG FOR THE HOLE and NO PARKING ON ODD DAYS by W!ld Rice

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 7 feb 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>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.
 

>>>>>RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

The pamphlet declared "Starring Neo Swee Lin" - there was certainly no doubt about that.

From the moment she appeared in that garish orange funeral attire, she grabbed the audience's attention by the throats and refused to let go. Running, jumping, boxing and even doing the occasional taiji on stage, she was a one-woman show of comic brilliance and human drama, a tireless dynamo of energy and brilliance. Delivering her monologues perfectly while performing endless arrays of exercise movements, she gave new meaning to the term "professionalism".

Coupled with that sterling dedication, was a wonderful comic timing that took full advantage of the script's caustic snarls at Singapore's bureaucratic nature. Neo showed the audience that her talent for comedy went beyond the role of Ah ma with her spot-on caricatures and rapid role-playing. From the belly-rubbing Indian officer to the timid junior civil servant, she created whole new characters with a seemingly effortless metamorphosis.

>>'the only discrepancies were the occasional lapse into slapstick'

Originally written for a male lead, the two satires are given a whole new perspective with Neo as the protagonist. As satires on the rigid patriarchal bureaucracy, they acquire even more edge with a female lead battling the System - it became not only a critique of citizen-government relationships but also a commentary on the rigid gender roles still so painfully prevalent in society today. At times poignant and at times almost farcically jocular, Kuo Pao Kun's adroit script led the audience through simple tales of ordinary citizens in their daily struggle against the insurmountable Goliath administrative machine. With us as Alice walking through his wonderland, this Cheshire Cat chooses to guide the story not with maps but rather a subtle hand and a knowing grin.

Staged at a time when "creativity" and "innovation" are the flavours du jour, the plays achieve a new poignancy alongside their original bite. The Singaporean need for order in a time of flux is questioned as the Indian officer ponders the ability of the rules to stretch under human needs. Timeless Asian values are questioned as the family unit disintegrates and the bonds falter. Yet Kuo spews no rhetoric as he argues from both sides of the fence - in shades of grey, there is no absolute right.

The high production values and the whimsically-minimal-but-all-so-potent set provided the platform for the impressive performance. Using a canvass of egg trays as backdrop, the thematic concern was made clear at one glance while the irrelevant colours of orange, red and green grinder the satirical edge even sharper.

In light of such a powerful performance, the only discrepancies were the occasional lapse into slapstick in NO PARKING ON ODD DAYS and the unfortunate dated feel surrounding it. Treading precariously on the line between physical humour and slapstick, the once-funny-third-time-corny playing of "Eye of the Tiger" and the gratuitous use of the boxing gloves created uneasy moments of worry. References to Singapore's "first airport" and Perry Mason created a jarring time travel sensation, undercutting the timelessness of the two plays.

The civil servant delivers the Singaporean adage that "there is no room for exception". Yet on the night of performance, there was room indeed - room enough for that lone female voice raging against the machine.