>FAMILY OF CROSS by Drama Box

>reviewed by judy tan

>date: 18 jan 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>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.
 

>>>>>AXES TO GRIND

Drama Box bites into the myth of humanity with its first production of the new (ahem, real) millennium with this smorgasbord of five totally independent tales culled from the rigours of everyday life. Perched precariously on the edge of reasoning, the talented cast of six takes on a series of five different scenarios, ranging from familial, to farcical, to fantastical.

Co-directed by theatre practitioners Zelda Tatiana Ng and Sim Pern Yiau, this socially conscious production relies on a strong cast, minimal props, simple lighting and sound effects to bring across the pathos and black humour of our existence. The tongue-in-cheek tone is set right from the very beginning, when the cast enters the stage from various directions, spouting various nonsensical lines in a babel of languages, crosses each other and faces the audience. The mostly stony-faced audience sitting in an L-shaped configuration stared back at them, with a few breaking out into giggles at this bizarre introduction. The cast members appear in army camouflage (matched with either glittery silver stilettos or army boots), school uniform, in a sarong and T-shirt (looking like the teh tarik uncle from your neighbourhood sarabat stall), a Man-In-Black ensemble with tai-chi pants, a police uniform and a business suit (worn with neon orange trainers). A warning sign subsequently went off inside my head: "Danger ahead. Proceed with caution." I didn't know what to expect.

We plunged into the first short story, entitled 'The Lane', immediately. With a shaft of light across the floor indicating the lane, the cast comes alive in comical 'Groundhog Day' style repetitions of a series of similar events, played out in various permutations. Of course, the mismatched outfits don't really help much, if you are busy trying to identify each cast member as a stock character. The cast character-shifts, weaving in and out of various alter-egos, while dropping and picking up an assortment of accents. Presumably, you are smarter than to attempt to link the various disjointed conversations into a cohesive whole. It simply cannot be done.

>>'The cast and audience seemed to enjoy themselves and that it was a polished performance was obvious'

After a short transition for the set change, 'In the Kitchen' greets us next. Presenting a far more recognisable set up of a domestic situation, the segment is communicated in a mish-mash of song-speak - using a number of multi-lingual pop tunes and oldies (even the local national day songs were not spared) to put across the family members' sentiments towards each other. Talk about singing to a different tune. On top of that the cast of three somehow mutates into six characters in a discordant cacophony before a final harmonious end when issues are apparently resolved.

Following this is 'The Doors', a study of speeds, that pitches a farcical, melodramatic send-up of the classic 80's Taiwanese serial dramas, featuring slow moving unbelievable plotlines, long lost siblings and over-the-top expressions against the splicing in of a sub plot of modern day life, with fast food and instant pest control (from a spray can of insecticide). Perhaps a commentary on our consumerist but soulless habits?

'Where' marks itself as being the most visually-entertaining of the lot (in terms of the costumes). More outlandish than in the previous segments, the simple plot of an explorer from England (pronounced "Ing-land", with an ah-beng accent) discovering the mythical Eastland had the audience in stitches over the clash of cultures, especially when the inhabitants of Eastland obviously suffered from a bad case of schizophrenia, presented as multi-ethnicity gone awry. A sneaky political commentary ensues, with blithe references to always having to be "Number One".

Finally, 'The Show' is a mind game disguised as a puppet show. Being the closing offering, it literally left its audience sitting in the dark, until one finally absorbs and considers its last lines about there not being an audience and the cast only playing for itself. Self-serving theatre? Are the audience meant to feel betrayed?

The stories seem linked only by the re-appearance of each actor's unique movement-based motif, which transcends all the stories and catches the actors at the most alarming moments. Among these quirky trademarks include fainting spells, a short Mandarin song-and-dance excerpt complete with gyrating hips, meaningless repetitions of the phrase "excuse me", a poor imitation of a Chinese vampire with two hands held out stiffly before him while yelling "cramp, cramp" and a yelping puppy begging for food. And all this induces you to question if actions do speak louder than words, since both the words and actions seem totally out of context at various times.

The cast and audience seemed to enjoy themselves and that it was a polished performance was obvious. In particular, Yane Tan, by turns a drunk, a mother, a soldier, a sister, a princess and even a robot, was amazing in her dexterity. She is most definitely a face to watch out for.

All in all, FAMILY OF CROSS provides a bewildering ride through suburbia. Although it threatens to alienate its audience at some points, for those with a sense of humour, who choose to decipher its codified acts and are yet able to simply enjoy it for what it is, they will find this thought-provoking fun.