>PAN ISLAND EXPRESSWAY by TheatreWorks

>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 5 may 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the black box, fort canning
>rating: ***

>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.
 

>>>>>SLOWING DOWN ON THE EXPRESSWAY

Destiny shapes artistic creation. Fictive production determines life. These relational processes become read forwards and backwards on Wednesday evening's PIE - a play within a play within a play.

The (core) primary play that is worked out revolves around James, a playwright whose orphancy hardens his heart to flesh-and-blood interaction and turns him instead to scripting impassioned characters - a distraught widow and a pair of Indian labourers among others. These characters are role-played by Claire, Wan Ling and Marcus respectively, individuals contracted to act in James' tragedy. Each member brings into James' drama their own history, reacting variously to the demands of their roles. A focal point was Claire, who fleshes a role not too far from her real life. While filming a staged suicide, Claire opts to make her death jump real. The divide between play and reality thus collapses with her tragic fall. Art intrudes into life when other actors actually die while filming footage for the play.

>>'Perhaps PIE's weakness lies in its didactic and caricatured portrayal of the local government. '

What proceeds from these tragic deaths is James' arrest. Suspected of masterminding the deaths, he is relentlessly questioned by a woman in pants-suit. This interrogator's wilful interpretation of the coincidental deaths imposes the conclusion that James' play was part of a complex scheme to undermine the local government. James' vain self-defence is ignored even as the interrogator quotes him against himself "The best way to remember is to reinvent". How the interpretation of one (the interrogator) is capable of reframing 'truth' (as James conceives it to be) is thus deftly addressed in PIE. How this interpretation and (re)presentation of 'truth' invents intentionality and responsibility are also powerfully foregrounded.

Through the exchange between James and the interrogator and other paired characters, PIE makes several blistering comments on current racial policy, the Internal Security Act among other extensions of the local government. PIE's timing seems uncanny in the light of PM Goh's recent take on Singapore as yet a non-Nation (courtesy of a Harvard professor's definition, of course). Perhaps PIE's weakness lies in its didactic and caricatured portrayal of the local government.

However, this is balanced by PIE playwright Chong Tze Chien's careful act of self-reflexivity: when the characters harangue James for poor scripting, the audience is invited to replace the characters for the actual actors and playwright of PIE. Tze Chien thus turns the critical eye upon himself through the largely self-conscious play. How the audience is roped in to the act of interpretation and (re)imagination simply testifies to the hold exerted by the clever script. PIE demonstrates why theatre's growing self-awareness of how it mediates and invents perspective removes the possibility of the audience ever standing apart from the process called drama.