>diary of a f.a.s.t. virgin by peel arts

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 22 sep 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the substation classroom
>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.

>>>>>THE MADWOMAN IN THE CLASSROOM

Peel Arts' contribution to the Substation's 'Septfest' is a charming, fey piece about a girl (called "Girl") who has been haunted for years by a croaking noise which, we learn, is the product of a childhood composition of hers, 'The Farmer's Son and the Happy Frog', which was criticised by an uncomprehending teacher. This rejection devastates Girl to the point that she is disturbed by the nightly cries of a frog.

The play (or playlet, lasting as it does for barely half an hour) captures the terror and neurosis of an ordinary day at primary school. Girl lives in constant terror of being scolded or hit by her teacher, Miss Teo, who expects her to behave exactly like everyone else. The numbing pain of a regimented childhood has never been more vivid.

The greater theme of DIARY OF A F.A.S.T. VIRGIN (don't, by the way, worry about the title; playwright/director Pua En claims it came to him in a dream) is conformity. Girl is constantly attacked for being different, for not falling into line - we eventually discover that she is in fact a mental patient, driven insane by society's determination to efface her individuality.

>>'This short play contains more wit and insight than many a longer work, and balances its gentle humour well with
a keen sense of loss'


As the girl, Felicia Oh treads a knife edge between reason and hysteria, fighting for control in the face of a hostile, inflexible world. Her very watchable performance gives depth to what could easily have turned into caricature, particularly in her transition between hyper-sensitive pre-teen and disturbed young woman. She also demonstates a quirky sense of humour, particularly in a superb fantasy sequence in which Miss Teo is transformed into a frog.

The staging of the play is simple, a bare set and stark lighting. This suits the pared-down script, the one jarring element being a TV set at the back of the classroom. The flickering images of a child playing at a piano, of sun glinting off a river, are for the most part just so much irrelevant eye candy. The one point where they do become congruent with the action comes at the end, when Girl, in a clever bit of staging, passes the scraps of paper on which 'The Happy Frog' is written to her on-screen self.


DIARY OF A F.A.S.T. VIRGIN has no pretensions, and raises more questions than it answers. Its insights into the pressures faced by children, and the expectations of society in general, are interesting but never fully explored. Still, this short play contains more wit and insight than many a longer work, and balances its gentle humour well with a keen sense of loss, especially in its evocation of an asylum full of sedated patients.

Girl muses that "sometimes I feel the world is one big school, and all of us will have to learn the same thing sooner or later." The ravings of lunatics often have a inescapable logic, and this madwoman's judgements on society are both chilling and acute.