>PRIVATE EYES by luna-id

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 9 may 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre
>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.


PRIVATE EYES is a confusing play. It's one of those high-concept, dense structure pieces that could well have started life as a crossword puzzle - the kind that you walk out of feeling like you've just passed (or failed) an exam. With this in mind, I have to question the casting for this production, which featured two Christians and three Lees (four, including crew). I would like to request that director Mr Christian Huber (there were two Hubers) spare a little thought for audience and critic alike, who have enough to do in decoding the play itself without tripping themselves up on the names of the actors. Or their interrelationships - for in an uncanny instance of life mirroring art, the luna-id ensemble (complicated by marriages, engagements and family relationships) was almost as convoluted as Steven Dietz's elaborate script.

In fact, attempting to recount the plot, just like they teach us in lesson one at reviewing school, would be a very silly thing here, so let's get more general. Basically, it's about rehearsing a play, but with issues of fidelity, perception of reality and just a hint of psychiatry and private dickery thrown in for good measure. Oh, and in line with the play's tag, "Lie to everyone but me", you should never believe anything they show you: the next scene will always point out the deception of the last, and then deceive you yet again.

Name jokes aside, Huber had managed to assemble an able cast whose lucid performances let the script shine through. The pacing was correct throughout and exchanges of dialogue ebbed and flowed organically. If the cast never quite sparkled, the fault could lie with the difficulty of the play, which is structured around successive layers of truth and falsehood, each of which requires a subtly different tone from the actors. Much of the potential for irony was lost as the performances largely veered from truthful (most of the play) to near-slapstick (those few scenes that were the most obviously mendacious). The deliciously ambiguous middle ground was left largely uncharted, to the detriment of the whole feel of the production.

>>'Huber had managed to assemble an able cast whose lucid performances let the script shine through'

Individual actors, too, had problems adapting themselves to the different moods of the play. Rasiah Raslyn Agatha was excellent as the waitress, bringing in energy and large-print comedy at exactly the point when it was needed; but as the theatre-director's vengeful wife in the second half, she couldn't pare down her performance enough to make it real.

Cordelia Fernandez Lee went in the opposite direction as the hypotenuse of a love triangle. Her performance had truth, but she was supposed to be playing an actress, and she suffered by rarely lifting herself above the prosaic. (And her lack of projection in a space as small as the Substation is really quite worrying.)

Christian and Justin Lee (no relation) did the best job of interpreting the text and portraying their characters (mind you, the former had the natural advantage of being called both Christian and Lee). Justin, playing the prick director, was irritating as hell - especially to this Brit reviewer, whose national stereotypes he successfully embodied. And Christian gave his character emotional substance and good timing, and was perhaps the best at reacting to the tonal requirements of the various scenes. But even these two could not quite fully capture the fluidity - the elusive mercurial quality that the script was looking for. They were rather good, certainly, but just missed excellent.

On the other hand, Jameson Soh, playing the psychiatrist, was acceptable in dialogue, managing the right mix of clinical detachment and frustration with his client (played by Christian); but his role doubled as a kind of narrator - a voice to be trusted among all the liars - and when his turn came to address the audience mano a meno, there were problems. His delivery drew attention to himself rather than the lines themselves or what he was actually talking about, and the resultant smugness was off-putting.

But perhaps what this consistently entertaining and proficient production of PRIVATE EYES will be best remembered for is not its acting, nor even its excellent script: it is for introducing product placement to the Singapore stage. You've all seen the latest season of Survivor, haven't you? Then you will remember those five second close-ups on chips and cans of soft drink as rugged host, Jeff Probst exclaimed to the malnourished competitors, "Mmmm, you could win Mountain Doo and DorEEdoes!" This play was really that blatant.

In constant view on the psychiatrist's desk stood a huge, 1.75 litre carton of Sunkist orange juice.* Call me a predictable old fart, but I usually prefer to keep it in the fridge and I certainly don't - as Soh certainly did - mysteriously fondle it while I'm in the background of a scene. Seemingly more forgivably, on the director's table you could see a jar of Boncafe and a mug adorned with that self-same logo. This became less forgivable later, when it transpired that the director in question was a tea drinker. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

*How do I know it was 1.75L? Because they'd taken out an ad on the back of the programme heralding their new pack size.