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Production

Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol. 3

Company

W!ld Rice

Reviewer

Deanne Tan

Date

14/07/2007

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Drama Centre

Rating

***1/2

Rainbow Nation

Happy Endings was many things, each with varying degrees of success.

On one level, Happy Endings was a heartfelt exploration of friendship, love and self-awakening, drawing from Johann S Lee's Peculiar Chris (Singapore's first gay novel). An author, Joe (Ben Xiao), struggles to write a story about a desirable school swimmer, Chris, during his junior college days. In the story, Chris (Xiao) falls for a male foreign student (Pierre Goh) even though he is already "dating" a girl (Genevieve Lim). Unfortunately for Chris, the male object of his fancy has no intention of making their socially inconvenient affair public. Hurt but unable to voice his feelings to his "girlfriend", Chris drives her away without explanation, hurting her as well. Chris' friend Nicholas (Galvin Yeo), a flaming queen, puts aside the pain of his unrequited love and comforts Chris.

Refreshingly, Happy Endings chose to focus on the bittersweet innocence of first love, rather than to wallow in the angst of being young, marginalised and confused. Friendship, romance and humour - qualities transcending issues of sexual orientation - reigned over any gloomy thoughts. Even when Chris' later boyfriend died of AIDS, the episode was swiftly dealt with, and its tone more matter-of-fact than anything else. The cast managed this competently. While their relative inexperience was evident, what was lost in terms of emotional range was made up for in a youthful energy that captured the carefree spirit of those growing-up years.

Just as the first half of Happy Endings was all lightness and air, the second half could not have been more different. There, the "gay issues" lost their whimsy and took on a political edge, reaching the climax of a biting commentary on attitudes in the gay community. A grown up Chris (Robin Goh) returns from overseas to find that his first "girlfriend" Syl (Karen Tan) has become a committed gay activist. His first "boyfriend" Ken (Timothy Nga) has "cured" himself of homosexuality and is delivering lectures on how to convert oneself from gay to straight. Nicholas (Koey Foo) has abandoned his feminine mannerisms to become a jock who only cares about sex. Karen Tan, who is as usual engaging and brilliant, plays a feisty Syl who finally lashes out at Nicholas for being apathetic to her activism. Her ringing cry "the personal is the political" places Happy Endings firmly in its social context, reminding us that there is a need for awareness and action.

The sharp contrast between idealism in the first half and worldiness in the second half was less jarring than could be expected, mainly because Happy Endings carefully eschewed bitterness and aimless cynicism throughout. At the back of each scene was some hope for the more joyful emotion evoked by the play's title.

Nevertheless, as the play's focus "zoomed out" into a more macro societal view in the second half, the characters suffered somewhat from being shunted neatly into pigeonholes, losing their multi-dimensionality as they embodied various stereotypes in the gay community.

But perhaps it was because of this unfussy handling that Happy Endings pulled off its greatest coup, to delineate with compassion and objectivity a large slice of the gay community. In Happy Endings, this was a world teeming with humanity - from the fag hag to the butch fag to the old man who haunts the bar every Saturday night. Upon closer scrutiny, this was a world not all that different from the straight world. Lim Kay Siu gave his character Alec, a lonely and slightly creepy old chap, a delicate pathos and dignity. A nice touch was his bittersweet rendition of an old song You'll Never Know, a simple tune that speaks of loneliness. The addition of a young and wide-eyed Kuang Ming (Hansel Tan) easily brightened the mood by providing Chris with a love interest to walk into the sunset with.

It was a little regrettable that the energetic pacing of the second half caused a hurried resolution of loose ends. But Happy Endings had a lot of ground to cover, and it did so while juggling serious themes and a sense of humour. Not too precious to jibe at gay plays in which someone's boyfriend invariably dies of AIDS, this ambitious conclusion to the Asian Boys trilogy was overall a lovely piece of work, at once fairytale and true to life.

This last installment in Alfian Sa'at's Asian Boys trilogy works best as a representation and critique of the gay community. W!ld Rice has tended towards plays as public fora, to engage their audience and stimulate discussion. In this respect, the enduring relevance of Happy Endings is self-evident.


"This ambitious conclusion to the Asian Boys trilogy was overall a lovely piece of work, at once fairytale and true to life"

Credits

Cast: Ben Xiao, Robin Goh, Genevieve Lim, Pierre Goh, Galvin Yeo, Lim Kay Siu, Hansel Tan, Karen Tan, Koey Foo, Timothy Nga and the company

Creative Team: Alfian Sa’at, Ivan Heng, Yvonne Yuen, Mac Chan, Moe Kasim, Christina Sargeant, Ashley Lim and M.A.C.

Production Team: Tony Trickett, BB Koh, Greg Swyny, Teo Kuang Han, Juraidah Rahman, Alycia Finley, Ryan Lim, Jasmine Teo, Kala Raman, Vivianti Zasman, Caleb Lee and Nurhadiyah Bte Mahadi

More Reviews of Productions by W!ld Rice

More Reviews by Deanne Tan

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