>ASIAN BOYS VOL. 1 by The Necessary Stage

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 1 dec 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the necessary stage black box
>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.

>>>>>party on, dudes

Singapore gay theatre really started to come out of its closet about a year ago, with the emergence of many plays dealing with gay issues or having gay characters. Most of them (and they were usually in Chinese) were brooding, melancholic pieces which dealt with AIDS and were based in part on Paul Monette's book 'Becoming a Man' (which holds a canonical status among Singaporean gay men as it was one of the first gay books that was allowed into the country). Depressingly preachy, they painted a sterile and suffocating vacuum of gay life, one bereft of hope and lacking in any hints of contemporaneity. Others, under the guise of a more general oppression, spoke or lashed out against the latent homophobia in Singapore's society.

There were of course exceptions: Glass Theatre's 'Safe in These Arms' was a hilarious sitcom-based drama in which relationships between straight and gay friends were fleshed out amidst the fact that one of the characters was HIV positive (though it was slammed for not treating the issue of AIDS seriously enough - but perhaps that was the point, that being HIV positive is not necessarily a death sentence any more); The Necessary Stages' 'sex.violence.blood.gore', was a subversive party for social misfits by social misfits, with a middle finger pointing at anyone who got in their way (well PELU did get in their way, but that is another story...) As such, ASIAN BOYS VOL 1 can be seen as yet another milestone in the short history of gay Singapore theatre.

>>'ASIAN BOYS VOL. 1 marks an important step and direction for gay theatre in Singapore.'

The clever and witty script was written by Alfian Sa'at (who also co-wrote 'sex.violence.blood.gore') and provided portraits of contemporary gay Singaporean culture, where extraordinary flights of objective speculation were punctuated with personal confessions. Alfian has engaged in furious dialogue over various issues associated with this particular sexual minority, illuminating the gay culture of Singapore in the process. Alternately friendly and threatening in the approach to various gay issues (for example the presence of racial discrimination within a community that is already discriminated for its sexuality), there was a mixture of exhilaration and discomfort in the writing, which provided a necessary engagement between the self and minor community, and in turn between the community with society at large.

Based in part on Strindberg's 'A Dream Play', ASIAN BOYS VOL 1 told the story of the goddess Dildo Divinity, called Agnes (performed by the wonderful Nora Samosir who was really the Queen of the Night), who came to earth to bring happiness to gay men by attempting to literally straighten out their lives. Together with her bitchy sidekick Boy (Hossan Leong), she takes a magic carpet ride through time to prevent the start of any form of gay culture from taking root. In this way, the play prevented itself from being too intrusively didactic, as instead of what one expected - where the goddess would be protecting gay men from various forms of homophobia - the opposite occurs. And in a comic scene filled with ominous undertones (where Nora Samosir shows her deft ability to take on various accents), the goddess takes on the role of a Indian inquisitor who tries to force the actors, director and playwright of ASIAN BOYS VOL. 1 to admit their attempts at subversion - perhaps an ironic take on the recent Talaq incident.

In the play, Singapore's history was placed in tangent with the imagined and unrecorded history of gay men in Singapore, from the immigrant days of coolie workers, to the Japanese occupation, to the present day chatrooms of the IRC. And cruising through time, the play grabbed this history by the collar and made bitter love to it. With sharp direction by Jeff Chen and a highly versatile cast, ASIAN BOYS VOL. 1 embraced what is seen as alien, clinical or criminal in Singapore and loved it into poignant life. Not that the play was without flaws: various parts seemed too disjointed and the ending was messy and uneven, as if the play was itself undecided in how to end, whether it was to be on a note of hopeful whimsicality, or on a note of hopeful pessimism. Nonetheless, ASIAN BOYS VOL. 1 marks an important step and direction for gay theatre in Singapore, at the very opportune moment where a more visible and burgeoning gay existence in Singapore is trying to find its precarious position in society.

>See also Matthew's review.