>BUANG SUAY by Agni Koothu

>reviewed by eugene tan

>date: 23 apr 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>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.


The strong female character. The downtrodden female character. The pathetic female character. The deranged female character. All have appeared on stage in monologues, dialogues or some other kind of logue. This time we met something else.

The difference between a female impersonator and a drag queen is hardly subtle. One becomes a woman, the other presents one, but both are men. What I saw in BUANG SUAY was a whole new genre, a woman presenting a woman.

Essentially, BUANG SUAY has as a narrative a fairly simple tale, a woman from a broken home, and a victim of incest becomes a prostitute. As a prostitute, she finds herself and her confidence. However she discovers later that this is all due to her race and so she is ridiculed and torn. End of story.

So really the entire play centers on this one woman, Kannagi, played by SRL Jothy. Indeed, she is on stage for the whole play and everything that happens in the play, happens to her. The fact that this central character was played almost as a caricature left the audience very little to work with, it is hard to empathise with a cartoon hero. The audience never really gets to suspend disbelief either, we do not really believe that superman can fly.

In the beginning of the play, we watch Kannagi being raped by her stepfather. The most physically vigorous of all the sex scenes in the show, mainly because of the struggle, we hear her stepfather telling Kannagi to "open your legs" because "I want it now". It reminded this reviewer of really really bad pornography, the kind that is dubbed over with dialogue.

This turns out to be a dream. Or rather a memory manifested as a dream, and in fact Kannagi was also raped by her stepbrothers. This we learn from an overlong, over-acted, and over the top monologue which tells a history of the protagonist's family and how she comes to be a prostitute.

It is here that we meet her pimp, yet another over the top caricature, but this one is entertaining. He has sex with Kannagi to "try" in one of the most amazing sex scenes I have ever seen. Kannagi is on all fours on a box, her pimp stands behind her, a good half a foot away, both fully clothed, they sway, unsynchronized, and miraculously, he orgasms.

>>'Many in the audience though tittered or outright guffawed at the slightest mention of any vaginal euphemism or sexual language. A pity though: scenes that would otherwise have come off as being quite tragic appeared slapstick instead'

Kannagi then meets another two clients, one a Malay man, who wants to call her by his wife's name, and another an old Eurasian man on illegal Viagra who dies in the middle of sex from an apparent asthma attack. Kannagi you realise must be extremely vaginally talented, all the sex was similar to that she had with her pimp. How she does it so well she explains in yet another overlong, but actually entertaining, monologue in which she chronicles the exercises she does to maintain her "vagina hole".

By now this reviewer was hoping for an asthmatic attack.

If you thought that this play was about sex and a prostitute, you were wrong, the next series of events changes the course of the play totally.

A Chinese customer comes to Kannagi, offering her money to sit naked at an altar to chase away bad luck. She refuses and calls her pimp. Her pimp tears her clothes off while telling her that the only reason she is patronised is her race. Sex with a "black" vagina can Buang Suay, chase away bad luck. So actually it is a play about race. It is here that our prostitute turns into a superhero, if only for a minute or so. In presenting a naked Kannagi, the actress wore a maroon catsuit under her underwear, under her costume. So there came a moment of the superman-undies-on-the-outside thing.

In the end, Kannagi squats naked on the altar crying.

All this action takes place on a giant yin and yang icon on the floor with a Mondrian patterned trunk place in the middle, with urine-inducing guzheng music playing throughout. Why? Go figure.

So the play sucked? Not really.

For one thing, with the exception of the stepfather and the Eurasian man, the male characters were very well fleshed out, the actors played with humour and presented characters that were recognisable. SRL Jothy as the protagonist also did get a lot better as the play progressed, although she never got round to being the prostitute as opposed to presenting her.

Most admirable was the script for presenting a story about the working class with a presentation that was very working class. Perhaps it became unbelievable because these less educated characters were played by actors who are obviously educated. It was like Mr Beng all over again.

Many in the audience, though, tittered or outright guffawed at the slightest mention of any vaginal euphemism or sexual language. A pity though: scenes that would otherwise have come off as being quite tragic appeared slapstick instead.

In the end, the actors turn into children and dance to a Mandarin rendition of "The more we get together". Poignant but lost after all the previous misses.