>mammon, inc. by action theatre

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 20 jun 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall, raffles hotel
>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.


Adapted by Eng Wee Ling from Hwee Hwee Tan's novel of the same name, MAMMON, INC. deals with the phenomenon of the global nomad - the class of workers who jet around the world for high-paying jobs. Rather than freedom, they find rootlessness, and are unable to truly belong anywhere, the victims of their own success.

Chiah Deng Gan is such a dislocated individual. A Singaporean Oxford graduate, she is at home neither in the east nor the west. Nevertheless Mammon, Inc. - a Microsoft/ Starbucks Evil Empire-type global corporation with a finger in every economic pie - attempts to recruit her to be part of an elite corps who help people feel at home anywhere in the world. She will be a human "universal travel adaptor", a concept the production disturbingly tries to illustrate with a video projection of Emma Yong's naked torso being penetrated by a two-pronged plug.

To secure her job, Chiah Deng ("CD") has to pass three tests. The first is to gain admission to a "Gen Vex" party in Manhattan, a gathering of ultra-hip beautiful people. She does so easily, after a quick diet and shopping spree, perhaps because the party is nowhere near as cool as the text sets it up to be. The allegedly chic habitues resemble a weekday night crowd at Madam Wong's, and CD's 'witty' repartee is more 'Caroline in the City' than 'Sex in the City'.

>>'A talented cast and slick production are layered over an
inadequate script'

The next two tests involve turning CD's British flatmate Steve into a Singaporean, while passing her ah lian sister Chiah Chen off as an Oxford undergraduate. This is the weakest section of the play, blithely reducing cultures to crude stereotypes - the Oxford toffs Chiah Chen meets are feckless hooray Henrys with attitudes Enoch Powell would be proud of, while the Singaporean family Steve has to infiltrate are belching, illiterate maid-beaters.

All this is meant to be funny, but the portrayal of Oxford as a hotbed of cultural ignorance and racism is frankly offensive, and as for Singapore - after CD manages to pass Steve off as a local, she moans that she's turned him into "a greedy, uncultured git". Well, thanks. More importantly, the satirical mode of the tests sits uneasily with the sections in which CD philosophises about her position in the world - of course she can't fit in anywhere, if she persists in seeing each culture as a homogenous, one-dimensional unit.

Eng's adaptation flows smoothly, and has an admirable mix of humour and pathos. It is unfortunate that she chose to retain almost verbatim a number of narrative passages from the novel, which CD now speaks as monologues - these slow down the action and often do no more than describe what is happening on stage. Rather oddly, she changes the ending so that CD does not join Mammon, Inc. as she does in the book, but runs off to New York to become a writer - much like Hwee Hwee Tan herself. Her problems, meanwhile, conveniently evaporate in time for the end of the play.

Despite the weakness of its structure and ideas, the play works because of the commitment and talent of its cast. Emma Yong is fine as Chiah Deng, but gets acted off the stage by Tan Kheng Hua as Chiah Chen, who captures both the flighty This Fashion-shopper in her character, and the love she feels for the family that CD can only think of fleeing. By turns hilarious and tender, she steals every scene she is in.

Nick Warnford is suitably menacing as Draco Sidious, the CEO of Mammon, Inc., oozing smarm and surrounded by a staff who look like extras from the Death Star set in 'Star Wars'. Loke Loo Pin provides a memorable cameo as CD's mother, although the number of one-liners she is given makes her resemble a sitcom character ("No need to get me anything from England, everything I need I can get at NTUC downstairs").

MAMMON, INC. is a crowd-pleaser of the sort Action Theatre seems determined to keep producing - a talented cast and slick production layered over an inadequate script which, although competent and entertaining, never actually says anything worth listening to. Like its predecessors, this one looks set to run and run - it's returning to the same theatre on July 25th, tickets available from Ticketcharge. You heard it here first.