>www by the necessary stage
>reviewed by daniel teo
5 dec 2002
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.'
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.
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.