>invitation to treat: wills and secession by w!ld rice

>reviewed by jolene hwee

>date: 7 apr 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall, raffles hotel
>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.


>>>>>A FAMILY AFFAIR

This second instalment of Eleanor Wong's trilogy, WILLS AND SECESSION (W&S) sees Ellen (Tan Kheng Hua) returning from liberal London to deal with family matters when her mother dies. In W&S, Ellen changes from the confused Ellen of 'Mergers & Accusations' to one living and loving with the newfound confidence of a married gay woman. Her Bible-thumpingly righteous Christian sister, Grace (Karen Tan), decides to do her marital duty by following her pastor husband to Surabaya for missionary work leaving Ellen (and a cancer-stricken Lesley) to look after her aging father.

The play is pensive, broken by sudden releases of tension, operating on an emotive as well as intellectual level that made the rich multi-layered dynamics of the script possible. Fraught with stillness, silence and tiredness, with missed chances and angry disconnections, it dealt with lost desires, lukewarm touches, obligations and a grudging acceptance of life and death. More than being just about the ghosts of the sisters' childhood (wonderfully conveyed through bursts of song that delighted the audience), more than being about God or the belief in one, this play was about the reality of responsibility, about hurt that lasts, about the cruelty of disease.

The script was honest, even confrontational, forcing one to feel less like a voyeur and more like a participant. The words spoken were raw and real and I found myself nodding in empathy as the lines were delivered, feeling the pain and crying the tears.

>>'The script was honest, even confrontational, forcing one to feel less like a voyeur and more like a participant'


Through the graceful, quiet performances that nonetheless held me rapt, I could decipher between Ellen and Grace the emergence of the Singaporean woman, with all her complexities. Karen Tan as "Amazing Grace" stole the show, and with her desperate hand wringing, conservative posture (and outfits) and tiny obliging nods of the head, she was the understated emotional focal point of the sisters' conversations on values, family and death.

Skilful direction created an uncanny synergy between the director's vision and the playwright's own. Not only was the pace well controlled, each stage direction worked only to enhance the essence of the original script. The set was sparse but not barren, consisting largely of hard, heavy oblong tables that doubled up as chairs and shelves. The actors moved the props themselves, fast and loud, their shoes scraping as they pushed. All of this underlined what was essentially just pure magical acting on bare boards with an honesty that was unflinching and raw.


W&S did not attempt to match audience expectations but to challenge them. It was about love, about the loyalty that exists within a much-maligned segment of our community, whom the majority of heterosexuals have ignored or only grudgingly accepted, never attempting - or never wanting to attempt - to understand them as people. This meditation on the universality of grief, depression and mortality was deeply moving and was one of the best plays I've seen, exploring its themes and motifs deeply and with great sensitivity.

As taboo-breaking becomes as stale as month-old sliced bread in the Singapore theatre scene, both the director and the writer have reminded us here that life, art and sex do not fall into conveniently-shaped vessels, but rather we have to learn to perceive the qualities of the uniquely-shaped vessels in which they choose to offer themselves to us.