>KUNDABUFFER by The Aporia Society

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 4 may 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>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.


You're probably wondering about the name. According to the blurb, "Kunda" is the Oriental Great Goddess of Wisdom and a KUNDABUFFER is "an organ blocking the perception of reality of three brain creatures presently residing on earth". Hope that helped.

It doesn't matter if you don't get it. The title has nothing to do with the play, which is in fact about the process of creating art in Singapore, at least for the "underground" artist. The artist in question is Raymond, a young actor "from the lower rungs of society" who kills himself.

Raymond's death comes just before he is to appear in a play based upon his own life. The culpability of the theatre group in his suicide becomes the centre of a pitched battle between Christie Hong, a journalist-with-a-deadline, and "K", the leader of the group, played by Wong Kwang Han, who doubles as director and playwright (move over, Barbra Streisand).

Christie, along with all the other establishment figures in the play, is presented as a monstrous self-aggrandising figure. She is joined by a representative from the Arts Council, Madam Wu (a magnificent, bitchy debut performance from Tan Suet Lee), who arrives waving a warrant to shut down the show. The resonance with last year's 'Talaq' fiasco is not coincidental; KUNDABUFFER is peppered with references to the local arts scene.

Wong is of course at liberty to make use of the allegorical framework of his play to snipe at the state of the arts in Singapore. What is less palatable is the cheap personal shots he takes at public figures. Stella, the cheongsam-clad, sexually-rapacious novelist who exploits her Chinese roots, is an obvious dig at Catherine Lim. Various theatre groups are put down as pretentious upstarts because they dare to work in other modes than straightforward narrative.

>>'There is only so much ranting one can take about "the shit and hypocrisy in society", and two-and-a-half hours of it definitely crosses some kind of line'

The most vicious hatchet job is reserved for Christie Hong, a thinly veiled portrait of Clarissa Oon. She says things like "I am THE drama critic in Singapore" and is writing, as Ms Oon is at present, a book about local drama. In the play Christie yells at K, "I ask you to be in my theatre book, you refuse!" Did she? Did he? We'll never know, as Ms Oon would appear to have no right of reply.

It is wrong-headed of Wong to imply, as he does here, that critics who dislike his (sorry, K's) work are (a) jealous of his genius, being failed artists themselves, and (b) too stupid to understand him. To portray Christie as a hyper-critical, untalented spinster is a childish and self-indulgent revenge against all the negative reviews he has ever received. To allege in a pamphlet given out at the door that Ms Oon "displays a preference for one-dimensional works" and "reeks of immature writing" is beyond the pale.

Christie describes the late Raymond as a hopeless actor, thus sending him into despair ("He was so depressed by her attacks that he wrote a second book of poems!"). This may be why Wong cast Eugene Lin in the role of Raymond. While not wishing to be unkind about Lin's acting, which is very bad indeed, I would have to say the only person in the cast who turns in a worse performance is Wong himself, whose portrayal of an angry young man is getting a bit tired by now, consisting as it does mostly of slouching and mumbling "fuck" a lot.

Julianna Ong stands out from the rest of the cast, displaying excellent comic timing with her energetic portrayal of Karen, the shallow egocentric actress ("I'm a professional. I was there, okay!"). Also good were the versatile Mei Shan, making the most of each of her many roles, and a deliciously acerbic Chio Su-Ping as Christie Hong.

Wong's script is unwieldy and disorganised, with scenes rambling on for far too long and ending abruptly. There are flashes of humour, in particular in his well-observed critique of the Byzantine processes of the censorship board, but these are rare and in any case overshadowed by the unconvincing plot. Ironically, K's (unnamed) script is initially turned down by the arts council for lacking "a proper dramatical structure", which is particularly funny since that actually happened to the Aporia Society's first play-that-never-was, 'Flights Through Darkness'.

There is only so much ranting one can take about "the shit and hypocrisy in society", and two-and-a-half hours of it definitely crosses some kind of line. Christie, sitting on the sidelines, is moved to observe that "it started to look like self-indulgent drivel after a while". I couldn't have put it better myself.