>CRYSTAL BOYS 2 by Glass Theatre

>reviewed by adele tan

>date: 21 dec 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama 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.


It's a love that dare not speak its name. Glass Theatre's latest play, CRYSTAL BOYS 2, tries to speak for it but fails miserably. For a loaded minefield like homosexuality, the play feels like a whitewash of its issues made consumable and maudlin. It is a straight play of a gay theme. Decidedly, the playwright has sidestepped the politics and gives a psychological and autobiographical narrative. Like the Tennessee Waltz and the musical box at the start of the play, the show caves in on a crude sense of kitsch and sentimentality.

CRYSTAL BOYS 2 is a play that does not work itself out as a play. The script clearly seems more suited for a filmic narrative than that of the theatre. A big defect of the play is in the writing, writing that breaks no ground and plays up a formulaic genre. The entire show is a big slide into melodrama of the Taiwanese serial variety as the dialogue ends itself in a pool of overwrought emotions and clichés. If, as the playwright professes, he has rich material from real lives and loves, then the creative output does not match up to the raw input. The emotional register just hits a monotonous note endlessly over, save for the occasional reprieve by the comic send-ups of caricaturised gay posturings, which are somewhat gratuitous, and the poorly worked out twist at the end of the story, where the divorced wife, Jing Ping, plots revenge by killing, Lan Yu the gay lover of her ex-husband Rei and suffers an emotional breakdown. Whatever tragic pathos that can be incited does not follow through because the writing does not allow us to feel for the characters. The characters are mostly minor orbits around the central protagonist Rei - an acclaimed writer, none sustaining the audience's attention for long. Even a more interesting character like Wei Guo (Lan Yu's later boy lover who has had a rather warped childhood) disappears into a whisper at the end. The female perspective that the director/playwright so wants is lost when the female characters - the wife and mothers - are straitjacketed into pigeonholes with little outstanding characteristics. The acting on the whole is largely mediocre and contrived, given that the characters have so little to play with, leaving Rei to hold the play with a much more comfortable effort and performance.

>>'The play should really have taken flight with such a provocative theme but it decided to throw in its lot with digestible, middlebrow pabulum'

But maybe this script would have been much better developed on the big screen than on the stage. The distracting multiple scene changes would have been better translated into filmic jump cuts, and the actors delivered performances as if they were acting for the screen rather than for theatre. The audience's attention was sorely tested with badly organised shifts of scenes, with one instance of a crew member being caught out by the lights coming on too soon. The two swiveling platforms on both ends of the stage of are a good idea for quick rotation of scenes but with the mangled execution, the platforms looked as though they were getting in the way of things. Instead of being fast-paced, as the director said it would be, the direction of the play disrupted its own momentum. Stylistically, the play stirred little visual interest. The stage kept to minimalist white sets and the lighting was purely functional and sometimes misplaced.

Perhaps the most interesting bit of the visuals came in the last scene with four weather-beaten red paper umbrellas (to shelter the ghost of the dead lover) carried by the four remaining characters on stage amidst swirling leaves and thunderstorm noises. Perhaps the part with most potential for development was its treatment of ageism in homosexual men. Growing old is a delicate issue with most gay men but the handling of this issue seemed a tad too pat and idealistic. Rei ends up living together for about twenty years with Lan Yu, who is ten years his junior. The latter runs into a middle-age crisis and takes on a younger lover behind Rei's back, who magnanimously allows them to live together with him so that they could be the veritable "three generations under one roof". I am not quibbling with the possibility of this happening but the process of how they get to this point is missing, making the whole affair seemingly ridiculous. The play should really have found a focus from the start instead of meandering through exogenous intrigues and lacklustre flashbacks into past affairs. The play should really have taken flight with such a provocative theme but when it decided to throw in its lot with digestible, middlebrow pabulum, the play just degenerated away into unexciting mush and ordinariness. Let us hope that CRYSTAL BOYS 2 is the momentary doldrums of the trilogy and that the third installment will crank it up a few notches higher.