>mardi gras by the necessary stage

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 14 aug 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>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.


In a sense, MARDI GRAS reminded me a lot of the 'Charlie's Angels' movies. The Absolutely Fabulous Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore always look like they are having so much fun making the films that it feels churlish to point out that actually watching the films proves to be a much less enjoyable experience. We're not talking about winning any Oscars here but even the MTV Movie Awards are likely to be untroubled. The movies feel like they have been cobbled together by ten different directors. The story is all over the place, coming across more as a series of individual scenes than as a unified whole.

And so it is here. In Hossan Leong, Rick Tan and Natalie Hennedige, playwright Haresh Sharma and director Alvin Tan have their Liu-Diaz-Barrymore triumvirate. This Lady With An Attitude and two Fellas That Are In The Mood are clearly having a ball on-stage and their enthusiasm is infectious. Leong, in particular, again proves that he is quite simply one of the best performers in Singapore. He doesn't try to be funny. He just is.

But, sadly, almost everything else leaves much to be desired.

Someone somewhere apparently decided that MARDI GRAS would not be complete without politics and drama. Which is fine. 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert' tackled issues of discrimination and even 'To Wong Foo' had a go at family violence. But they have to be handled delicately and not wedged in like a size ten in a size six. And that is where the problem lies.

>>'It was like grooving down to 'It's Raining Men', handbags a-swinging, mirror balls a-blazing and eyebrows most definitely arched, only for the DJ to switch over to 'My Heart Will Go On' mid-verse.'

In MARDI GRAS, every time something happened that could possibly have resulted in character development or political insight, everything would come to a screeching halt, the lights would change, the music would change, and then would unfurl a scene full of sadness (Gasp!), tears (Choke!) and political speechery (Don't cry for me, Argentina!) - and then wham bam thank you ma'am, it was back to Leong and Tan cat-fighting over who picks up more boys at the local swimming pool and can someone please get Hennedige another drink. It was like listening to one of those mashed-up records that are so popular nowadays - like grooving down to 'It's Raining Men', handbags a-swinging, mirror balls a-blazing and eyebrows most definitely arched, only for the DJ to switch over to 'My Heart Will Go On' mid-verse. It's what killed Madonna's 'American Life', which basically sounds like two songs that don't go together, and it is what kills this play.

And speaking of Madonna, these scenes weren't helped by the over-earnest acting of most of the cast either, many of whom are relative newcomers to the Singapore stage and look suspiciously like they were cast as much for their pecs as their talent. Theirs was the kind of acting where you show you are angry by shouting very loudly with your elbows locked and you show you are upset by putting your hands to your head like you're Courtney Cox in 'The Misfits of Science' trying to move objects with your mind. For the most part, they came across more Madonna and Mariah than Meryl. Which is fine if you are making 'Dick Tracy' but not if you are channeling 'Kramer Vs Kramer' in scenes of heartbreak and separation.

The script was very funny. Bitchy one-liners, pop culture references, in-jokes and double entendres came fast and furious with some cleverly constructed set-pieces paying off very nicely. I wonder why the creative team felt that was not enough: that there had to be a sad face beneath the glitter, eye-shadow and lipstick.

Rick Tan is literally wearing nothing except for a cheeky grin and a feather boa over his private bits on the poster. Somehow I don't think audience members were coming into MARDI GRAS expecting Larry Kramer. And if a more serious undercurrent was indeed needed to support the play, it was already there in the wonderful handling of a chilling scene where Hennedige's character comes in to say that police raids and arrests of gay men have begun - just after the authorities have finally granted the organising team a license to stage a Mardi Gras in Singapore. There was certainly no need for an incest sub-plot, and especially not one as poorly-handled as this was.

MARDI GRAS would have been fantastic if it had been half the play it was.