>THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING by The Singapore Repertory Theatre

>reviewed by Marcus Tan

>date: 22 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.


Since the dawn of Western philosophy, great thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle have sought to explain life and its meaning, constantly seeking the metaphysical sublime, the perfect "form" and the "Theory of Everything" that could explain creation and existence. Einstein came close to the discovery of this "theory" through the intricacies of relativity while Stephen Hawking sought it in a "dance of geometry" that supposedly created the universe.

But how do these theories affect us? As Nef, a seemingly accomplished intellectual yuppie in the play concludes - they don't. We each seek our own "Theory of Everything" - a theory that would explain our own (meaningless) existence and its trifle events. Nef's theory is one rooted in entropy: from the moment we are conceived, we are thrust into this world and hence toward death (and the eventual nothingness thereafter) and there is nothing we can do to stop the walls of history and future closing in on us. It is, as Nef so aptly describes, like a cup that is knocked off a table. From the moment it leaves the edge, there is no turning back. The cup shatters into pieces as it feels the impact of the ground.

Nef's analogy then thrusts the audience into a two-hour philosophical exploration about the fundamental issues of the meaning of life and existence.

Presented by the Singapore Repertory Theatre and working in collaboration with East-West players, a premier Asian American theatre located in Los Angeles, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING investigates the issues of identity, sexuality, ethnicity, faith, hope and love in the lives and through the prismic lenses of seven Asian-Americans living in Las Vegas, Nevada. This award-winning play explores the 'space' that binds and yet divides the term "Asian American." Written by Thai American Prince Gomolvilas and directed by Tim Dang, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING grapples with issues close to the heart of the playwright - placement and displacement, alienation and belonging, and gender and racial discrimination of ethnic 'aliens' in America. The cultural specificity of the issues, however, does not alienate for they transcend the boundaries of culture and ethnicity to invade the consciousness of any individual.

>>'The small but powerful cast inhabit their roles convincingly, for the large part, with the help of monologues delivered by every character'

The narrative composes of a simple plot (but in that simplicity, the verbal action is able to expound universal issues). Spurred by the belief in UFOs and encouraged by Grandma May's tale-telling of her close encounter with the third kind, Patty activates her band of friends and relatives to keep an overnight vigil on the roof of her wedding chapel in hopes of experiencing an episode from the X-Files. This night then brings profound changes to the lives of these seven people as they confront their own existential angst.

The "Alien" motif in the play serves more than just a nickname for foreigners in foreign lands but speaks of a need to hope in a world that is filled with confusion and uncertainty. Patty's need to believe in aliens represents a need for each individual to hope in something (or anything). As Gilbert, a charismatic and appealing young Filipino who confronts his own sexual (mis)orientation, points out, Hope is a synonym for God. But in our faithless age, this god yields many alien faces and luck/chance is one of them.

With the stage "decked" with gargantuan cards, one not only makes the link between chance and gambling (in a state popularly known only for its Casinos and Bingo Lounges) but is constantly reminded of how life is constantly a gamble and a game of chance.

Chance, however, doesn't explain the professionalism shown in this production. The seamless interweaving of popular American music acts as a meta-commentary on the dramatic action while the lighting accentuates the developing mood and atmosphere. The small but powerful cast inhabit their roles convincingly, for the large part, with the help of monologues delivered by every character. Patty, played by Emily Kuroda from East-West Players certainly steals the show with her most convincing portrayal of a Thai American whose life has cease to mean much because of her incapacity for child-birth. Hiro, Patty's Japanese husband, incites the applause of the audience as he relates his need to hope in the false hope of winning at lottery. However, the dramatisation of Lana and Nef, played by local actors Michelle Chong and Brendon Fernandez respectively, pale in comparison to the other more experienced actors from East-West Players. Where the accents of each ethnic individual speaking English in America came across believably, Michelle Chong seemed not only linguistically "clumsy" with her attempts at an "American" accent but lacked dimensionality in her portrayal of a law undergraduate kicked out of school and dumped by her boyfriend. In addition, Brendon's self-consciousness at acting made Nef nothing more than the script verbalised.

The play, however, should be credited not only for its wit and humour but its attempts to engage with the issues of life and living. It does not, however, claim to give didactic solutions to the problems of life but demonstrates performatively, in the final scene, via Grandma May's mending of a broken porcelain Japanese fortune cat accentuated by the light(ing) of sunrise, that life can still be lived with hope. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING then exemplifies the "theory" that postmodern issues of existentialism can be presented effectively without the tentacles of avant-gardism (or the repetitive scrubbing of oneself in a bath scene!).