>THE TOWER OF SILENCE by Aporia Society

>reviewed by seow yien lein

>date: 9 dec 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre
>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.


There is an intriguing background to the title of The Aporia Society's latest play. Translated from the Persian, a tower of silence was a circular tower of stone and iron where the ancient fire worshippers of the land would entomb their dead after a series of purification rites designed to ease the way of the departed into the other world. To say that THE TOWER OF SILENCE is about death would, however, be misleading. For the latest Aporian play has in fact little to do with the cessation of life, and even less to do with keeping mum. Not that this makes for a less interesting play - in its place, the Society has taken into its ambit such issues as friendship, familial ties, betrayal, truth, falsehood and madness.

A brief outline of the plot is in order here. Five friends, though thick as thieves during Junior College days, lose contact as first university, then marriage, career, and the workings of time and distance take their toll. Seven years later, however, two of them meet and wind up as lovers in an unlikely affair. Things start to unravel, however, when the woman talks about mowing down her relatives - mostly ageing aunts and uncles - with a machine gun, then succumbs to a paranoia of mysterious provenance. She subsequently botches up an attempt at suicide, and chucks her partner out of her flat under the pretext that he is spying on her.

It is at this point that the story kicks into the present: her displaced partner, a would-be novelist called Kent, rounds up the rest of the gang, fills them in on what had happened, and extracts promises from them to visit their old friend, his erstwhile lover, Sharon. The rest of the gang - Kong, a teacher, Lynn, a lawyer, and Fern, a rich man's wife - are strangely reluctant to help but finally do so. For their pains, however, they are forced by the severely disturbed Sharon to remember their own murky pasts. Fern, for example, is reminded of a nasty incident in Junior College involving a stud and an unwanted pregnancy; Lynn, of an abusive and overbearing parent that had made her life hell in her younger days.

>>'THE TOWER OF SILENCE was neither successful nor, towards the end, even mildly interesting. Worst of all, it just got plain silly.'

Inflicting torture on your friends, however, is not Sharon's exclusive preserve - Kent too gets his fair share of excoriating lines that leave his friends in a state of fury or general wretchedness. In two of the more memorable scenes of the play, his character seduces Fern, sleeps with her (off), then, using the fact that she is a married woman, brutally devastates her by sneering at her willingness to prostitute herself for him.

All this is interesting stuff. Some of the scenes were excellently conceived, too. One in particular deserves mention: bound and blindfolded in the middle of the stage, Sharon is forced by her knife-wielding friends to answer a nightmarish series of questions operating in a perverted system of reward and punishment. The bizarre quality of the scene is reminiscent of something from Kafka; Sharon's horror of waking up to an alternate morality is reminiscent of a bad dream which lingers on through the day. Scenes such as this would not have been as effective if Sharon had not been well played. Despite her obvious youth, Davin Gill performed admirably in this role. Infusing Sharon's character with the necessary subtlety and sophistication, she managed to convey the ambiguity surrounding this character without quite slipping into vagueness, resisting self-consciousness at the same time.

For all this, however, THE TOWER OF SILENCE was neither successful nor, towards the end, even mildly interesting. Worst of all, it just got plain silly. There are a few distinct reasons for this, one of which was simply that it was far too long: this reviewer counted twenty-two scenes, discounting soliloquy, spread over a two and a half hour period that excluded a thirty minute interval (though an announcement had promised ten). The conception of the play as a series of scenes depicting snippets of the characters' lives, not necessarily in chronological order, also had a chop and change effect that took away much of the play's drive. This was not so apparent in the first half because the plot mostly kept itself to the what-on-earth-is-wrong-with-Sharon mystery - play here at least was tight and finely executed, despite numerous excursions into soliloquy.

For these, some were actually less self-indulgent than expected. Unfortunately, however, this did not last: the characters ended up retailing their tortured life histories at every available opportunity, in-between the all too frequent roaring exchanges, most of which had, by that time ceased to either interest or excite. The play became silly when a character, deciding that he was not adequately complex (by which is meant he had not really suffered), threw in a soliloquy describing a failed romance, his depression, and the maternal neglect he experienced when young - all this in Mandarin, two and a half hours into the show. Little things such as these feed back into the feeling of tedium, since it is hard to remain interested in what the characters are going on about when you cease to care about what happens next.

Make that doubly hard when the play requires you to hold many differing strands of the plot in your head at any one time. And, despite the complexity of plot, characters remained ultimately hollow - for a play contemptuous of romanticisation of any hue, it felt as if all the actors (with the exception of Sharon's and Fern's) were playing out a romanticised idea of what a struggling novelist's life was like, say, or how young urban professionals interacted (the actors mostly couldn't decide if they were speaking the language of an American sitcom, of common white trash, or of the Queen; the pretension inherent in swearing every third sentence provided this reviewer with a few moments of private mirth). Why this is important is because a play can only make you feel and think when you are able to relate to its characters and, if not to the situations they encounter, then at least to the way they handle them. For a play with Aporian objectives to pursue, the amused - or polite - smile is the worst reaction that it could possibly provoke in an audience. The infuriating thing is that a lot of this could have been avoided if the characters had simply said less. Given the richness of thought behind THE TOWER OF SILENCE, this play of The Aporia Society could quite easily have been something to be reckoned with. Having chosen verbosity over silence, however, it must uncomfortably bear out the old adage that speech is silver and silence, golden.