>CONSTANT CONSTIPATION by Drama Box

>reviewed by fong li ling

>date: 6 mar 2004
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre
>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.
 

>>>>>PURGE THOSE ILL EMOTIONS

A friend of mine once said that constipation is his worst fear. It is not MY worst fear, but it definitely is an excruciating experience - the inability to let go no matter how hard one tries. Not to mention the amount of energy the process consumes. The perspiration. And even if one finally gets it out, the pain still lingers. These are the consequences of constipation.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the world seems to be going downhill economically and socially. Many ideas for recent years' films and theatrical productions have been sparked off by these calamities, mostly focusing on the heroes of the attacks or the cruelty of the incident. Drama Box's CONSTANT CONSTIPATION is, by far, the subtlest such performance I have come across. It pays more attention to the consequences of the tragedy, specifically how survivors cope with the loss of loved ones, rather than to the violence of what happened. Certainly, constipation is a novel analogy to use to address what people (in this instance, Singaporeans) are going through after such a tragic event.

Playwright and Director Lee Shyh Jih has created two characters who are representatives of the modern man and woman who have lost somebody in their lives. One holds on to the past, refusing to let go, while the other wants to plunge into something new so as to move on. In an uncanny coincidence these people are brought together by the collapse of the Twin Towers, and a recycled mobile phone number. Through their conversations via Short Message Service (SMS), they learn, albeit briefly, about each other's past, and the other person at the end of the mobile phone line seems like the only person who is able to understand.

>>'It pays more attention to … how survivors cope with the loss of loved ones, rather than the violence of what happened.'

Woven through such somber issues as terrorist attacks, war, anthrax scares and situations of rape and abuse is a sort of love story. Very little about the two characters' relationship and their history is really made explicit, but amidst the despondency and gloom brought about by the multimedia images flashed to the audience, as well as the feelings of loneliness, pain and memories that haunt the two characters - amidst all this there is a sense that the story tries to bring about a glimmer of hope, even though the play does not end on a specifically happy or sad note. After all, hope is something one should have in life in order to press on and change one's own life for the better.

The freelance photographer (played by Serena Pang) in the play acts as a bridge to connect Micheas Chan and Cai Lilian's characters together through the assignments they get her to work on. In fact, the later part of the show becomes a wee bit similar to the movie, 'Turn Left, Turn Right', as Chan and Cai's characters see each other and even exchange a few words, but never realise the other party's identity.

In any case, Pang's character serves as a link to everyone in the room. She is the only one who interacts with everybody, and the one who creates most of the humour in the piece through the candidness of her lines, as well as her bold and daring disposition. She commands a considerable amount of stage presence, especially with her costumes and quirky actions. Chan's performance commands much attention too. He actually has no lines (other than at the closing moments of the play), yet manages to capture the audience's attention using only his facial expressions and body language.

The ending, I think, is rather unexpected. Chan and Cai's characters never really meet each other in the end, even when he finally agrees to meet her after such a long period of time and her countless requests to see him. A blackout is used a moment before both characters are finally to meet face to face, and Chan at last gets to speak (in slightly inarticulate Mandarin) His character calls Cai's so that she will pick up her mobile phone and he will recognise her, but all of a sudden, everybody he sees is using his/her mobile phone. That incident leads to the two characters having their personalities swapped - Chan, who initially could not let go of the memories of his ex-lover, moves on with his life; Cai, on the other hand, becomes the one holding on to the memory of her SMS pal.

Lee gives the audience quite a bit to digest and think about. It takes some time for one to break down the parts of the play and work out how one idea is connected to the other. The beauty of it is that, as a whole, the story flows pretty smoothly and the play comes across as a tight, concise piece. Apart from the mindsets of its characters, this play is definitely not constipated.