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 PERSONAL IS THE POLITICAL
and Accusations', the first instalment of the 'Invitation to Treat' trilogy,
seemed progressive with its love-the-person-not-the-gender philosophy,
the third instalment, JOINTLY AND SEVERABLY (J&S) evoked yesteryears
of queer and feminist activism. J&S may well take place ten years
after where the second instalment 'Wills & Secession' left off, but
it looks like Singaporean society is still ten years behind.
ten years Ellen (Tan Kheng Hua) has set up home with law professor Zee
(Janice Koh), her former lover Lesley having died of cancer. Things turn
ugly when Zee leaves Ellen for a student (Nat, played by Adelina Ong)
- a student who happens to be Ellen's daughter Sam's best friend. With
Sam's marriage imminent, the play is a strange mix of unions and break-ups.
Eleanor Wong has created a whole new batch of characters for J&S,
such as Zee, Nat, Sam (who was still a baby in 'Mergers and Accusations'),
Ellen's lesbian couple friends, Jess and Vic, and token gay man, Mark.
Coupled with faster and multi-layered plots happening all at once, Wong's
writing seemed stretched much too thin. Writing substantial lines for
all her characters seemed difficult enough considering the amount of time
she allocated to each. To make sure the story moved along regardless of
that, Wong concentrated on pushing plotlines without the luxury of the
rich in-depth characterization that marked the previous two instalments.
Speed was the order of the day - scenes were bite-size short, leaving
the characters and the audience simply not enough time to settle in before
the next scene change came.
is Art with a Purpose; Wong's light touches are now weighed down by politics
Peripheral characters Vic, Jess and Mark had to be created as stereotypes
to function properly given their allocated time and space but sadly even
main characters seemed somehow underwritten. Little back-story was given
about Ellen's relationship with the people around her and it was unclear
how Ellen and Zee met, why they fell in love or why they stayed together
so long. Similarly Ellen's relationship with her daughter Sam was never
explored beyond the premise that Sam's mother's lover was sleeping with
her best friend.
In the flesh,
chemistry was similarly lacking between the principle characters - Tan
Kheng Hua and Janice Koh didn't seem much of a couple while Melody Chen
as Sam felt more like Tan's very much younger sister. Adelina Ong and
Melody Chen especially had problems making their roles count as angst
driven newbie lesbian and politically correct vegetarian respectively.
Pam Oei's sock-in-my-crotch butch Vic and Huzir Sulaiman's token fairy
Mark were delightful, but both characters were really little more than
the clichés Wong had brilliantly avoided in the past two instalments.
Director Claire Wong's pensive direction negotiated the alacrity of Wong's
scenes, ensuring that things moved along
but not too fast. The mood
was heavy and music composer Wendi Koh's introspective song segues evoked
the stasis of middle-aged commitments and responsibilities. Happy days
are here no more and it's telling that the most poignant scene in the
entire play was the cast's bursting into "We Are Singapore"
while discussing Zee's fight against the university who were dismissing
her for dating Nat. The issues in J&S have moved on to larger political
and social arenas: what is the role for gay men and women in Singapore
if they are denied the right to marry? will standing up for their rights
only mean the shutting down of the gay community? J&S is an important
play no doubt but regrettably Wong's characters seemed to have been sacrificed
for a higher cause. J&S is Art with a Purpose; Wong's light touches
are now weighed down by politics and age.
might be in dire need of a revolution but the personal is really the political
- the message might be the catalyst for change but it is the voices behind
the message that stir the heart.