>invitation to treat: jointly and severably by w!ld rice

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 14 apr 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: jubilee hall, raffles hotel
>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.


If 'Mergers 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.

In these 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.

Playwright 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.

>>'J&S is Art with a Purpose; Wong's light touches are now weighed down by politics and age'

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.

Singapore 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.