>MIXED BLESSINGS by The Necessary Stage

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 20 aug 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: marine parade community centre
>rating: ***1/2

>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.


There are some of you who might be thinking, hmmmm, why hasn't the Inkpot covered the Necessary Stage's Marine Parade Theatre Festival yet. Is it because - shock horror! - it isn't any good? Regular readers will know, of course, that we write about them all, the good, bad and the very good.

The Marine Parade Theatre Festival production that I saw, MIXED BLESSINGS, was of the last variety. In fact, I liked it so much I watched it twice!

Which goes some way to explain why this review wasn't up earlier despite my trip down to the Marine Parade Community Building on Friday 18 August.

(As for the long-overdue write-up on the accompanying site specific visual art exhibition 'Imagine Boundaries: Encounters with New Model Communities', I blame it all on being a bad bunny and Lucy, I promise it will get done. Eventually.)

MIXED BLESSINGS is essentially a piece of Playback Theatre. For those not in the know, this means that a play is performed and then audience members suggest different choices the protagonists could have made so as to achieve the 'desired ending'; the cast will then replay the relevant scenes of the play, this time incorporating the audience's suggestions. This means to say that the actual play itself tends to be a little contrived. The scene has to be set and problem after problem must be heaped upon the protagonists while each problem must, to some extent, present its own escape route for the audience to pick up on.

>>'Characters were endearing and witty one-liners came fast and furious - some a little too crude for younger viewers'

To be honest, the actual 35-minute script for MIXED BLESSINGS was, indeed, a little heavy-handed and obvious at points. And sometimes realism gave way to more extreme representations (particularly in the portrayal of Rajesh's and Lucy's friends; the presentations of the parents were spot-on, though. Haresh, have you been speaking to my father?). But always for the sake of the genre. And it is to Haresh's credit that his script always more than made up for its (self-imposed) limitations with huge dollops of wit and charm. Characters were endearing and witty one-liners came fast and furious - some a little too crude for younger viewers (and I got this from the horses' mouths), admittedly, so don't believe them when they say that TNS is toning down or mellowing out.

The storyline basically centers around Lucy and Rajesh, a young mixed couple, who face opposition from family and friends because of their racial differences. The six actors were uniformly excellent and always comfortable in whichever one of their many roles they were playing at a particular time. It would be churlish to single anyone out, although Nora Samosir was, indeed, a particular delight, as first Lucy's best friend, Susan, and then Lucy's mother, Mrs Phua who drew as many tears as she did laughter.

With its topical and easily translatable theme, the play clearly spoke to a lot of people and the actors were offered lots to chew on and rework by the audience both the nights that I was there. And certainly, on the Friday that I went, I was deeply impressed by how quick and versatile cast, writer and director proved, adapting nimbly as they did to the suggestions offered by the audience. Admittedly, by Sunday, it all seemed a little over-rehearsed. I guess the audience weren't throwing as many curve balls as they did on the earlier nights or maybe the cast just became more adept at returning them.

Which brings me to my main criticisms of the play. Truth to tell, there weren't really that many feasible suggestions that could have been played out and it is understandable how the whole gamut could have been run through after just a few nights or indeed, largely predicted during rehearsals (even Friday night's playbacks were a little suspicious …) in the first place. A scenario with more possibilities and twists and turns might have it more fun for the cast and audience members alike.

Secondly, I think that the cast could have played with the ideas thrown at them a little more and more importantly, given them half the chance. Often it seemed that the cast had already decided the young couple was doomed to separation, no matter what the audience suggested. Which keeps the game going longer, yes, and may be some metaphor for fate and destiny but often just proves frustrating for the audience members who, dammit, are romantic little noodles who want to see our young lovers run off into the sunset with Celine Dion - or in this case, Barry Manilow - wailing in the background.

And I swear to God, Haresh, that suggestion? - it worked on my parents!