>spoilt by the necessary stage

>reviewed by musa fazal

>date: 5 dec 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the necessary stage black box
>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.


>>>>>JOURNEY TO THE HEART

SPOILT tells the story of Tracy, a successful 33-year old who decides she can no longer bear her "sweet, but predictable" life and prepares to admit herself into a mental hospital. Tracy's decision, though, has repercussions. One of the people she affects through her decision is her ex-boyfriend from JC who went mad while in NS. Her decision also affects her parents, living on an estate for the aged (patronisingly called Spring Vale) and forced to cope in different ways with the loneliness of losing her. There is a twist in this story at the very end, apt given Tracy's aversion to all things predictable and her declaration at the beginning of the play that there is nothing quite like that God-like feeling of being able to write our own endings.

The staging for this performance is simple. White floor in a black box, white screen walls for the video projections, and a fairly minimal use of props and costume changes to create shifts in scene and character. Its focus as a result is on the actor - the actor's ability to create the character he is playing without the magic of theatrical devices.

No two actors could have been better equipped to do this than Karen Tan and Loong Seng Onn who delivered all night an assortment of delightful characters. In particular, I found Karen Tan's portrayal of Tracy's ageing mother Dorothy superbly executed. The twitch, the sudden and jerky body movements, and the inability to speak nothing but clichés strung end to end in a robotic fashion all helped to quickly create in our minds the impression of a character completely ossified by the experiences of her life. Watch out too for Karen's entertaining portrayal of Madam Whitesnake, a squeaky voiced ghost outlandishly dressed in a blue evening dress and a diamond tiara.

>>'The focus of the play is on the actor - the actor's ability to create the character he is playing without the magic of theatrical devices ... No two actors could have been better equipped to do this than Karen Tan and Loong Seng Onn.'


I have to admit I had a few peeves with the performance. For one thing, I wasn't sure if the video projections used were altogether necessary. They seemed like nothing more than ordinary scenes of everyday life. Many looked like pictures straight out of a Tourism Board brochure. And what about the live music performers, Electric Muse, faintly visible throughout the show through a thin screen - what was that all about? Very postmodern this attempt to bring together several forms of media within one theatrical space. But I just wasn't sure the rationale for doing so in this particular play was very strong. Still, it all looked pretty cool and the music was nice.

The play had some political overtones. The first line after a huge projection of the Senior Minister was "Jesus is the son of God", and this was followed at one point by images of (amongst other things) masses of people doing the Great Singapore Workout, and stacks of containers in a PSA terminal. You join the dots. Also at one point Tracy's father spoke about the new security personnel in their estate as coming from China. "How do we defend ourselves from the China guards" he asked, a question no doubt on the lips of many policymakers in our country today. My personal feeling though was that many of these references were clever, but not altogether well developed or even necessary. The story of Tracy's frustration with the monotony of her everyday existence was strong enough and universal enough to stand without them.

So strong in fact that I think chances are some people are going to come to this play and reel from the images of their own lives presented so starkly before them. More likely than not, they will go home and feel the need to throw a modest tantrum, maybe pig out on ice-cream and watch 'Gone With The Wind' till two in the morning. They will then inevitably realize that they have to go to bed because they have a slide presentation in the morning which they have spent months preparing for, and they will cry themselves softly to sleep.


Having watched this play I'm reminded of what William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize speech of how young men and women writing today have lost the ability to write well because they have forgotten that only the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself can make for good writing. "Because only that is worth writing about," said Faulkner, "worth the agony and the sweat."

Chong Tze Chien makes no such mistake here. His writing shows that his understanding of the human condition is incredibly perceptive. Needless to say then that this play has many memorable lines. One of my all-time favourites is when Tracy says "I wish everyday would be National Day so I can always see fireworks in the sky, and not wonder where the fireworks are in my life." Of course, one needs to be in the right mood for a piece like this, as is the case even with a good Faulkner novel. The manic-depressives amongst us therefore might just want to give this play a pass. The rest of us though, can sit back and wallow.