by singapore repertory theatre
22 jun 2001
>>>>>RED WHITE AND BLAND
Many column inches have recently been devoted to the intricacies of the SRT's contribution to the Arts Fest, RED. In case we missed these, the programme lets us know what we are in for, with a cheerful disregard for grammar: 'The play leave audiences with an understanding of the power of art.'
Ah, does it then? Not at first glance. The main plotline, set in the Cultural Revolution, is filtered through the consciousness of an American writer, Sonja Wong Pickford. Not shy of exploiting her Chinese roots, Pickford produces romances with such titles as 'Love of the Jade Pagoda'. Her ethnicised slush (she is proud, she says, to be "the Asian Danielle Steele") sounds mass-produced and pulpy, more Amy Tan than Maxine Hong Kingston.
The tragedy of the Cultural Revolution, as presented in this play, is the art that was destroyed. Books are burnt on stage, and the "loss of the wealthy legacy of our accomplishments" is repeatedly lamented. Starving farmers are mentioned only in passing, and even then, to Master Hua, are of interest only as an audience.
showing Hua rehearsing with his apprentice, Ling, and a
Pickford is, in any case, superfluous to most of the action. Her character is only brought into play in the last fifteen minutes of the play, far too late, wasting a fine actor in Emily Kuroda. For the most part she is reduced to watching Hua and Ling silently from the side of the stage, or asking them questions in a manner that suggests she missed her true calling and should be hosting a talk show, not writing books.
These novels, did they exist, would probably resemble Chay Yew's script. He has Pickford talk about "mei hua blossoms", which is a bit like referring to 'Jalan Sultan Road'. The script is peppered with monologues, all overwritten, about such subjects as Master Hua's difficult childhood - his father is, of course, "a poor day-labourer" with "rough, chapped hands" and "breath stinking of cheap wine".
is the schematic nature of the action. Scenes of Hua berating Ling during
rehearsal are echoed when Ling joins the Red Guard and tortures Hua as
a counter-revolutionary. Hua dies in exactly the same manner as his putative
gay lover. Ling and Hua are given, in several instances, the same lines
to say. But there is too much of all this, and what was probably meant
to set up resonances merely becomes repetitive.