>beautiful day (mandarin) by dramabox

>reviewed by adele tan

>date: 1 feb 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>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.


Though billed as a story "built on earth shattering emotions", the play never quite comes close to that but in actuality possesses the feel of a nice breeze on a beautiful day. The play ruffles no feathers nor has the explosive nature of the earthquake that was simulated in the play, but instead it treads on a reflective and wistful path of memories and emotional ties. BEAUTIFUL DAY, Dramabox's opening performance of 2002, eschews the company's usual community-based topics to present a tender drama of relationships within selves and between others. Lasting a short one and quarter hours, the play is a small intimate encounter with personal journeys, with life's inexplicability and its inexorable desires and obsessions, and with other tangential entanglements of the heart.

The premise of the story is first founded on a tripartite relationship between an unnamed woman (played by Tang Wan Chin), an unnamed man (Ng Wei Min) and Momoe Yamaguchi. The man embarks on a journey in search of Yamaguchi, a Japanese pop idol of the 70s and 80s who has mesmerised him for nearly two decades since his teenage years. Now he leaves home for Japan to look for clues that might explain why his memories of Yamaguchi linger on though his first glance of her was on the silver screen some 20 years ago. The woman, a friend of the man, wishes for him not to make the trip when she learns that an earthquake is about to hit Japan. Her warnings fall upon deaf ears and she does not understand his persistent obsession with Yamaguchi. An earthquake finally does take place (although only in her dreams), not to the man but to herself in Singapore. This symbolic quake is the opening up of her suppressed and unrequited affections for the man and her opposing frustrations with growing old into a predictable marriage and the possibility of living under the shadow of someone else's fixation. The later introduction of Tomakazu Miura (Yamaguchi's long-time on-screen lover and real-life husband, whom she retired to be with at the height of her popularity) shifts the triangle to a pair of parallel relationships between the man and woman and the Miuras. The man finally gets to the front door of Yamaguchi's home but turns away from finally meeting her as he does not want to invade her privacy since she has deliberately attempted to lead a life out of the limelight. Instead he returns home and meets up with the woman.

>>'To address the improbabilities of life and discoveries of the self, BEAUTIFUL DAY needs to be more than a paean to Momoe Yamaguchi'

For BEAUTIFUL DAY, the highlight of the performance lies in its unusual mode of presentation, due largely to the uncommon vision of director Lim Wee Bin. The mis-en-scène provides a semiotically charged environment that sometimes becomes more suggestive than the actual spoken lines. Relying on a split stage of a suspended cloth screen that divides the central platform into two, the audience can only get to view one of the two performers and merely hear the other for most of the performance. We are made to view this as signifying a tension or an impending collision between two worlds - one rational and calculated and the other impulsive and unfathomable; one of the immediate present and the other of the indefinite, infinite past; one of Singapore and the other of Japan. At one end of the stage hangs a pair of inflatable lips and on the opposite end, an ear. But the spoken structures of the play desist from any direct dialogue save for the first and last scenes. Instead, through an ingenious turn by playwright Lee Shyh Jih, they each perform a seeming monologue but with lines that cross-cut and answer to each other at opportune moments, texturising the play with interjections and echoes. Other memorable sequences include the simulated earthquake, which whilst ostensibly showing the crumbling of the woman's inner world, is really a good effect of dramatic rhythms with the sounds of falling objects overhead augmenting and controlling the progression and pace of her anguish and incredulity. Another is the chase sequence of attempts to locate Yamaguchi, which is a humorous affair with documentary video projections exposing the Momoe-craze in Japan, where knowledge of Yamaguchi's residence is said to be a prerequisite, even to obtain a cab licence. At other times, the multimedia projections cast still-images that create other evocative meanings which are either in tandem or at variance with the movements on stage - with some more successful than others.

Yet, despite these outward trappings, the content of BEAUTIFUL DAY's writing is mostly unfulfilled. Akin to the sporadic images on the video screen, the play gestures towards many things but stops short of revealing what is found. From the references to our obsessions with Hello Kitty to the intended outcome of superimposing the Yamaguchi/Miura relationship on the man and the woman, we are not clear about their raison d'être or the depth of their associations. What does the man finally understand about his fascination with his idol through the reinvestigation of Yamaguchi and Miura's lives? Why does he feel that Yamaguchi has a more veritable presence than anyone else in his life and that he has come to the edge of the world and does not need to seek anywhere else when at her doorstep? We are not illuminated: these aspects are left undeveloped in the script. Like the staging of the play, we get only half-veiled truths. There is an inordinate amount of re-enacting the traces of Yamaguchi and her love life through the means of her songs, her television serials and her autobiography without necessarily demonstrating its significance to the play. Is it mere insight into the lives of this pair of legendary lovers or are we to be knee-jerked into feeling admiration for this romantic recast of Yamaguchi?

The sentimentality and bathetic ending of the play give an unremarkable finish to the below-the-surface disturbances and unsettled feelings that the play wants to hint at. It appears that the end points towards finding a resolution or a gravitational point for happiness through the meeting of a life-partner. Shrouded in a nostalgic atmosphere of hot chocolate and pretty Japanese stationery, the final scene is a tad saccharine and conciliatory. Has the man moved forward and found himself in coming home or is he still ensconced in his romanticised kitsch, defining himself and relationships through what he knows of the Miuras?

And I have only one thing left to say: to address the improbabilities of life and discoveries of the self, BEAUTIFUL DAY needs to be more than a paean to Momoe Yamaguchi.