>the search for asilo by faithworks and central singapore cdc

>reviewed by fong liling

>date: 20 dec 2002
>time: 7:30pm
>venue: marine parade community club theatrette
>rating: unrated

>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.


The objective behind the production, initiated by teenagers to contribute to the Central Singapore Community Development Council's Mayor's Imagine Fund, was for the general populace to understand the difficulties faced by the intellectually disabled and those directly linked to them. The script was born after a script-writing competition held in July when dramaturge Sean Cheong was engaged to piece the story together from the outstanding entries. The script was not set even then. Through rehearsals and improvisations, Director Claire Devine (last seen in The Necessary Stage's 'WWW') together with the cast made several more changes to arrive at the final script.

The show's main character, Tracy (Clarise Ang), is a mentally handicapped girl who has reached a suitable age for working. Since young, Tracy has had everything done for her by her sister, Rachel (Siti Rafidah Bte Rahman), who thinks Tracy is incapable of doing things for herself because of her condition. Rachel inevitably feels that Tracy is a burden to her, and that her sister is often the cause of embarrassment. Pitt (Jason Tan), Rachel's best friend, and Tracy's mother (Nadiah Misari), on the other hand, share the opinion that Tracy should not be deprived of experiencing as well as leading a normal life. Hence, Pitt gets Tracy a job in the coffee place where he is working as supervisor much to the unhappiness of his best friend. Then, as expected, Tracy is called names (the most significant one being "retard") and gets into a sticky situation at work: she trips over a customer's bag (thrown in her path on purpose to trip her), which leads to her spilling coffee (which was amazingly colourless) all over another customer's belongings, that fateful customer happening to be the regional manager of the coffee place. This is a bit melodramatic and straight out from a sitcom but ultimately functions well as a disturbing action for the rest of the play.

This ill-fated incident costs Pitt his job, and the magnanimous guy does not even blame anyone for it. Naturally, Rachel holds Tracy responsible for Pitt's loss of his job. This particular scene was one of the best in the play, with Rachel venting all her frustrations on Tracy who was completely clueless until her sister shouted in her face that it was "because of (her)". Both girls managed to maintain their energy level throughout the scene and were very much in the moment of it.

>>'Perhaps it was opening night jitters but some of the cast were clearly trying to deal with the butterflies - in their stomach.'

By the end of the story, the production proved that people like Tracy are as competent as everyone else or in the play's case, more competent. Though they may be a little less efficient, they are still be able to perform well, as long as they are given the chance.

The generally realistic and straightforward plot successfully drew the audience into the story and did indeed bring us into the world of these special people and the different psyche of their family and friends. The transitions from scene to scene were also beautifully done by the cast as they metamorphosised on-stage from caterpillars in cocoons to butterflies. These attractive insects which live in Asilo (Spanish word for haven) do not practise any form of discrimination against those of their kind, even if they look different. This is, of course, at the heart of the play: the creation of a world of unquestioned love and acceptance for those who require just that little bit more assistance and patience.

Watching ASILO, I was reminded of my own secondary school drama club days, especially at the time when we first started out: all of us raw and bursting with energy, but when it came down to being focused, some of us just could not seem to push orselves hard enough. Perhaps it was opening night jitters but some of the cast were clearly trying to deal with the butterflies - in their stomach. They fumbled their lines a little and there were a couple of times when I could not catch what Pitt was saying, but that was mostly only in the beginning. Then again, the young actors were not completely at fault. I am sure every single soul in the house that night would unanimously agree with me that the handful of ignorant juveniles amongst the audience who showed absolutely no respect to anyone in the theatrette at all and made unnecessary, not to mention, loud, comments throughout the show was partly to blame. I am sure they played a part, big or small, in the cast losing their focus during several points in the performance. The scene where Rachel was quarrelling with Pitt over him getting Tracy a job is particularly memorable. Pitt was pushed by Rachel and it really seemed as if he knew he had it coming. The way he "posed" after the two pushes (whether it was deliberate or not) looked extremely comical in that supposedly serious scene.

The actor worth commending would be Teresa Kirsten Teo who played Shawna. She is one of the workers in the coffee place and has an obsessive-compulsive personality. Due to her fixation over details, she is disliked by her colleagues, but is the only one who is willing to befriend and show Tracy the ropes. Teo was steady and spoke with clarity; her character also injected genuine humour into the show.

Ultimately, it was evident that though THE SEARCH FOR ASILO! was a sincere effort from the young people, it sadly lacked that much-needed "oomph" that would have inspired audiences to really stand up and thump their chests and say, "Yes! We can make this world a better place!"