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Production

godeatgod

Company

The Necessary Stage

Reviewer

Marcus Tan

Date

29/10/2004

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Necessary Stage Black Box

Rating

*1/2

Who Eats Who?

When Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan collaborate on a project, the resultant product is an archetypal TNS production which seeks to re-define notions of theatre and performance as evidenced in the experimentation of form and the extensive use of multimedia being the vanguard of the performance.

Written by TNS' Resident Playwright and directed by TNS' Artistic Director, godeatgod is a reprise of the August 2002 production, albeit re-conceptualised and re-cast. Created as a response to 9/11, godeatgod is meant to be a "layered and moving exploration of power, sexuality, spirituality and survival in the post-traumatic world" (programme notes). An anagrammatic re-representation (and contortion) of the cliché "A Dog Eat Dog World", godeatgod seeks to "excavate the tragedies that surface - dishonesties, power struggles, corruption and egos - which have made the world an elimination platform by the powerful" (programme notes). In the face of such moral corruption, art can perhaps question and provide an answer from within that paradigm, and without.

The issues are provocative; the questions well-asked but everything else in the performance came short of its promise including its performative concept. While the programme is filled with jargon and verbosity about the thoughts the play hopes to stir (and the playwright reinforces these by coming on in the final sequence to remind the audience to take home "something"), the performance failed to reach the heights of its grandiose publicity.

The entertainment quality and appeal lasted perhaps only for the initial ten minutes in which the performance opened in a self-conscious and comical manner with the four leads - Rody Vera, Aidli "Alin" Mosbit, Peter Sau and Eriko Wada - chanting a jingle while the credits rolled on a screen behind the actors; a trademark of TNS' multimedia/inter-media performance styles. The subsequent sequences, however, became a self-indulgent expedition of an existential crisis (examples include clichés such as "why live?" "why die?" "why God?" "why godeatgod?").

The actors assumed amorphous roles, stepping in and out of narratives. Each actor was asked to shed their roles in moments of "scripted" monologues where they gave personal recounts of their "heroes". Issues of politics, oppression, ethnicity, faith and culture were evoked but sadly the performance became nothing more than a platform for individualistic angst-ridden exploration. The inter-weavings of these disparate and piecemeal narratives was weak, bounded only by the common element of the perennial question "why".

The most significant anticlimax is perhaps the play's (and playwright's) attempt at engaging with "everything": from the global, the political, the ideological, and the religious to the artistic, the intimate and the personal. In a span of an hour-and-a-half, what resulted was a superficial, shallow and trite attempt at examining issues which are far more complex and multifaceted than the play gives credit to. Perhaps one could say that art is unable to provide solutions and can merely "expose" issues but in the context of performance, the play communicated little, if anything. In the event of watching, one merely felt a sense of contrivance with the banal and formulaic ways in which the certainly important social and political issues were recycled and re-presented with little depth or profundity. godeatgod became an intricately devised performance that was, however, painfully unaware of the ways it deconstructed its own artistic intentions.

This "auto-deconstruction" was introduced in the initial moments of the opening when the playwright emerged from the crowd to share his personal experiences of constructing the play but the honesty and sincerity of that tract fell into ridicule when Peter Sau was clearly scripted to respond in a sardonic and scornful manner. The authenticity of the playwright's "intentions" became deflated and demolished and, ironically, as the playwright himself notes, reinforces the notion that everything we watch is merely art (hence cannot and shouldn't be taken seriously for art can only imitate life and can never "be" life itself).

In concordance with the attempt to perform and engage the "everything", godeatgod sees a collaboration of international artistes (as stated earlier) and intercultural forms. Eriko Wada, who plays a wife who has lost her husband, spoke in Japanese, the remaining actors were dressed in a vaguely batik-looking outfits, ethnic music was played throughout the performance, and the programme starred culturally cross-dressed icons. While it seems that interculturalism is the direction of local theatre of late, one wonders what the performative intentions of godeatgod were? The programme claims godeatgod to be an "intercultural process" but there was no engagement with the concepts of inter-culturality, culture, or the politics of cultural practice. The performance was neither "intercultural", and by this we mean an interaction of culturally specific performance styles and modes. If there were, they were certainly cursorily introduced.

While one would expect that narrative linearity does not sit well with avant-garde performances, the director (or is it the playwright's intention?) curiously punctuated the performance with a dialogue session in the middle of the performance. One had the sense that the director and playwright had run out of ideas to perform and needed this exercise to fill the time. The only dialogue that occurred was between the playwright and the actors who have now, in a doubly ironic fashion, relinquished their fictional roles but were yet performing as their "real" selves. The attempt at engaging the issues of censorship and the role of art in the context of censorship was futile and perfunctory for the ideas and opinions raised by both playwright and actors lacked conviction or competence - there was no effort in attempting to evaluate the logic, purpose and consequence of censorship and the responses were merely reactive and hackneyed (with the exception of Aidli "Alin" Mosbit who provided some food-for-thought). In the context of the performance, the discussion failed to communicate its honest opinions about the significant controversy of censorship because, reminiscent of the opening sequence with the playwright appealing for empathy of views, it was staged.

The play ends with the playwright reminding everyone that, hopefully, we should all take home with us a piece of the play and that at times some stories are better told without metaphors and symbols. The irony then was the plethora of visual and physical imagery and symbolism (such as the sadomasochistic caning of the floorboards) that pervaded the play, adding to the already many ways the play de-constructed itself. The performance eventually becomes circumscribed and scripted into its own political hegemony which it so tries to question by performing the trite and cliché and by claiming a "universal" post-September 11 condition. It meta-dramatically reinforces the notions that art can only stand idly by and is ineffectual in troubled times.

As an afterthought God (played by Rody Vera), in godeatgod, is on trial for the afflictions in the world and all things misshapen. But of course the God on trial here is, in a meta-dramatic manner, played by post-lapsarian Man who consequently is unable to assume the status of God. Hence the feeble defence put up by "God" (He denies causing the pain and suffering in life) is merely a scripted performance of Man assuming the identity of God and the knowledge of a "Godly" response. Here, the seams of the play's conceptual framework showed further signs of tension.


"One merely felt a sense of contrivance with the banal and formulaic ways in which the certainly important social and political issues were recycled and re-presented with little depth or profundity"

More Reviews of Productions by The Necessary Stage

Previous Reviews by Marcus Tan
Obsessive Repulsive Madness by In Source Theatre

The Lover and The Dumb Waiter by luna-id

The Global Soul: The Buddha Project by TheatreWorks

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.