>www by the necessary stage

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 5 dec 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>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.


>>>>>THE GOOD WOMAN OF BANGKOK

There's nothing quite as painful as a well-intended dud. For all its timely and well-meaning messages of loving our neighbors (even when they chop off your son's arms and legs as a bargaining chip), WWW was let down by some truly awful execution and unbelievably trite dialogue.

It wasn't for a lack of effort, that's for sure. WWW is evidently a labor of love from all sides - scenes were painstakingly contrived but foisted upon us with so much effort - and playwright Chong Tze Chien has his heart in the right place. For one thing, Chong has crafted some very interesting sounding characters indeed. Meet zeitgeist Di (Beatrice Chia), a Thai prostitute who believes she's Wonder Woman after being brutally raped by a customer. When faced with the reality that her sister Fi (Norleena Salim) and husband Mickey (Hossan Leong) bought an American boy Kevin from a kidnapping syndicate to extort money from his parents, Di must decide whether Wonder Woman's going to mete out justice or help them as sister/wife Di. Even though Fi and Mickey might not be all evil (Chong is very careful with his shades of black, white and grey), their nefarious crime spawns a spiral of degeneration even Wonder Woman can't fly out of. When Kevin's bickering American parents, George (Richard Lord) and Helen (Claire Devine) fly into Bangkok to buy back their son, Di must decide if she's truly Wonder Woman or just a slightly nutty Thai prostitute in a bad costume?

Chong's use of a morality play vehicle is not surprising considering The Necessary Stage's close affinity with social theatre. What is surprising is how simplistically didactic his preaching is. From the Thai sex trade to American imperialism, Chong's writing displayed enough breadth, seeing patterns in diverse global issues, but not enough depth to go beyond academic musings. You have to hand it to him for attempting a tale of this scope but providing the audience with connect-the-dot explanations to why the world is such a sorry state - intolerance, lack of love, poverty etc - and having his characters voice them out for him is off-putting and terribly unrealistic. To have a Thai prostitute explain how she can prance around in a hilarious superhero costume and still be the noblest person with her capacity to love was a high-handed lesson that was hard to swallow.

Chong's notions of the low life seemed terribly romanticized and naïve, a 'Moulin Rouge' interpretation of how you can be desperately poor but yet retain your purity by having love in your heart. I could be wrong but I don't think Thai prostitutes see anything remotely noble about selling their body to feed an adulterous con man / husband getting blowjobs from the sister-in-law.

>>' I could be wrong but I don't think Thai prostitutes see anything remotely noble about selling their body to feed an adulterous con man / husband getting blowjobs from the sister-in-law.'


The cast put up credible performances, with Norleena Salim and Claire Devine really milking their emotionally anorexic characters to the bone. Salim, juggling mind-boggling lines such as "I'm a dog, I was born to lick your pussy and his balls," brought out the pathos of being the supporting role in a tale with no heroes. Her face wonderfully contorted with inner conflict at the chasm of degradation - offended by the notion of giving her brother-in-law a blowjob but wanting to do so nevertheless, she pauses at Mickey's lap for split second before going down.

Claire Devine as the grieving American mother Helen with hatred in her heart had probably the least sympathetic role. Alternating between declaring that third world countries should be bombed and stealing hotel toiletries, Helen didn't believe in hoarding her pain. It's to Devine's credit that she didn't underplay Helen's nastiness or downplay her vitriol, humanizing Helen only through her looks of anguish and partial understanding when she meets Di.

As Di aka Wonder Woman, Chia has the very unenviable task of being the messiah, idiot savant, and sometimes a combination of both at the same time. Chia tackled her role with fearless gusto (check her Wonder Woman moves!) and didn't seem to have much regard to personal safety, racing and rolling around with glee. Chia played her role straight - poor raped Thai girl gone crazy thinking she's Wonder Woman - and the direction from co-directors Alvin Tan and Chong Tze Chien suggested little else. While they explained why she refused to get out of her costume, many of her lines sounded out of place since some were philosophical, and others deeply introspective. For someone who talked to Superman when she was by herself, her level of self-awareness and analysis was astonishing. This made it very hard for the audience, and Chia as well, to really make sense of Di - was she mad enough for these inanities or was she naive enough to believe in what she said? This uneasy mix never coalesced into a coherent whole and the audience was as baffled as Chia as to who Di really was.


Not helping was the indulgent directorial inclusion of tacky videos clips that grated rather than provoke. As a segue, they followed Di's already dodgy lines and it all seemed like a laugh really, and all very awkwardly juxtaposed with Di's earnestness and Chong's good intentions. Against the backdrop of Dorothy Png's evocative wild-vines-rampant-in-paradise-lost set, Chong's mediation on our human worth, karmic destiny, and salvation bore no fruit. Considering that Chong was the same mind behind the brilliant 'PIE,' surely WWW was but a miscalculation of venue (it would have worked much better in a smaller space), readiness of the script (lines could use a lot more tweaking) and Chong's understanding of his characters.

There are moments when you sense Chong was nearing a moment of clarity (when Di met Helen in the hotel room) only to lose these moments in pointlessly campy multimedia clips, grandiose musings or tacky music. With WWW, Chong seemed lost in his own ponderous exploration but hopefully it's a matter of time before he finds his way back on the expressway.