>THE SOCK by Ad Hoc Productions and luna-id

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 6 oct 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>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.


What is it about our favourite T.V. sitcoms that make us tune in to them week after week?

This question ran through my mind as I sat watching THE SOCK, a play that proudly proclaimed that its style of humour and format was derived from television sitcom. After all, it had an opening sequence that introduced the characters and listed their various acting credits, like the start of any sitcom, and a large part of the play seemed to be derivative of 'Friends' - as seen in the fact that the play was about a group of friends with romantic dalliances between them, the fact that they hung out in a café that looked suspiciously like Central Perk, the fact that the girls shared an apartment and the guys shared another, and they all spent a lot of time in each others' apartments.

So why do audiences enjoy sitcoms such as those screened on TV week after week, or in performances like this?

Reason 1: Don't you know, we simply love stereotypes, predictable plots and happy endings?

The safe little worlds portrayed in sitcoms provide escapism from the harsh reality of our lives. Come on, which of you wouldn't, in an instant, give up your life to live in the cosy Seattle as portrayed in 'Fraiser' or the postcard-perfect New York as seen in 'Friends'.

Of course the real New York and Seattle are actually quite different, but that is the point. It is this myth making, this creation of a world that is both real and imagined that draws us in because of the familiarity, yet makes us want so much more because of the differences.

And in such worlds, stereotypes rule - oh, characters talk about them, bitch about them, try to debunk them, have storylines around them -- but in the end, these stereotypes are upheld and shown as the way of the world. Of course, by definition, these stereotypical characters are not complex - their appeal lies precisely in their simple one-dimensionality. Plots are predictable but the perverse pleasure comes in the anticipation of the enfolding plot. Happy endings are sometimes so ludicrous and implausible - but oh so necessary to provide wish-fulfilment in our sad little lives.

And these characteristics apply to the highly accessible and engaging play that was THE SOCK, and we, the audience, lapped it all up.

Gender stereotypes were the order of the day - with the usual arguments being bandied about: men are lazy, dirty, egotistical and spend most of their time looking at women's' breasts; women love to shop, gossip, and feel that men take too short a time during sex to pleasure them, etc - you know them all I'm sure. This got a tad too tiring at times - you wish that some new insight or even just one clever idea had been thrown in about sexual relationships and gender relations. And once the play started, you knew the ending from a mile - the bickering pairs will get together and happiness will ensue among the newly formed couples.

Mind you, if you were expecting another 'Lovepuke' (one of the best plays staged last year by Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble) which dissected the messy state of love in the end of the 20th century in a playfully ironic and *wink wink* knowing manner, then you would have been mightily disappointed. This was a simple and straight (in more ways than one) story telling that did not see the need for post-modern trickery and cleverness. After all, this play was in part produced by the theatre company that gave us the wonderfully simple 'Eleemosynary' earlier this year.

(Though it seemed that the play tried too hard when it felt that it had to include a Message to justify itself - and what was this Important Message? 'To play it safe in today's complicated world of dating and relationships', as stated in the programme. But I thought the whole point of sitcoms was the fact that there is no need for Important Messages, but maybe it's just me….)

Not that THE SOCK was bad theatre - just different from the spate of pretentious and avant-garde plays flooding the local theatre scene. The light-heartedly comic script by Anita Klimczyk had plot developments and one-liners that were worthy of a good episode of 'Friends' and the clever witticisms of an episode of 'Fraiser'. And it was the sparkling dialogue, the quick-witted banter that filled the theatre with much laughter.

But there were moments of meta-narrativity (included perhaps to show that they could): extras talked to the audience and complained about the lack of stage time; characters referred to themselves as actors in a play; the audience became a picture on a wall that was part of the women's apartment.

>>'Some might say that THE SOCK was an unoriginal, insipid and unchallenging piece of work - but its simplicity in both form, storytelling and style of humour was a breath of fresh air.'

Reason 2: Don't you know, we like to have oh-so-amusing conflicts and incredulous situations occur in our boring lives (but are too afraid to ask for them)?

Sitcoms are usually plot driven or situation driven (after all they are called situation comedies). And it is the cornball situations, the out-of-this-world conflicts and premises that propel these shows.

For THE SOCK, the main premise was about a guy who was allergic to rubber and was unable to use condoms as a means of protection. He imaginatively tries various other ways to practise safe sex - using cling film and yep, you guess it, a sock. Meanwhile, gender competitions based on who could move the fastest with their butts on the floor and adult uses of Ken and Barbie, were some other zany instances that gave this sitcom-based play much dramatic momentum. And under the capable direction of Christian Huber, these quirky situations were tautly developed with his careful handling of pace and dramatic tension.

Reason 3: Don't you know, we know the characters on the sitcoms better than our friends?

Familiarity in this case does not breed contempt. We tune in each week to find out the latest about our friends in these sitcoms. And this was the case for THE SOCK. Even though we had just been introduced to them, we were warmly invited into their world and soon became engaged with their comfortability with one another and the chemistry between them. Hilarious one-liners and suggestive come-ons bounced easily and naturally between the actors.


And for this, the cast had to be greatly applauded: Raslyn Rasiah as the romance writer was oh-so-sultry; Kate Naughton as the ditsy Mairead was on-so-kookily funny, Justin Lee as the average Dylan was hilarious as he revealed his strange habits and neuroses, while Louis d'Esterno was on-so-innocently charming as the guy with the sock-problem.

Meanwhile, Robin Leong as the manly Julian did not fall into the curse of TV actors who are unable to act on stage, and was adept in his comic role - though his macho posturing did grate after a while. (You could say it was his character, but sometimes I was not too sure….)

But the performance of the evening went to Amber Simon who played Kimberly, the gal who managed to hit the sack with the sock guy in the end. She was captivating with her knowing mix of wide-eyed innocence and sexual mischievousness.

Reason 4: Don't you know, we can only spare half an hour of our busy schedule watching it?

Sitcoms realise that with their shallow characters (after 7 seasons of the programme, characters are well detailed but still superficial and under-developed), you can't really engage the audience for more than half an hour. THE SOCK lasted about slightly more than one and a half hours without an intermission. And it is to the credit of the director, actors and playwright that for the most part of it, you didn't feel the clock ticking away. Yet one hour and fifteen minutes into the play, the ending felt like it was never going to come -and even with the taut pacing,judicious editing of scenes should have been done so as to prevent the play from dragging at the end.

Some might say that THE SOCK was an unoriginal, insipid and unchallenging piece of work - but its simplicity in both form, storytelling and style of humour was a breath of fresh air. After all, audiences do not live by Desdemona alone.