>eston by The Fun Stage

>reviewed by musa fazal

>date: 26 dec 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: asian civilisations museum
>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.


Who is, what is, Eston? Animal, vegetable, mineral or Martian? An anagram for 'stone' or 'notes'? Or five letters out of the eight that form Stella Kon's name? Is Eston a long lost twin, an abstraction of self, an alter-ego, or the Greek philosopher Zeno's response to the question 'What is a friend?'

'Another I.'

Perhaps all these things. ESTON the play, is a stage translation of two chapters from Stella Kon's award-winning novel about a being with uncanny powers who helps others in their journeys along the path of self-discovery.

In 'The Tunnel', a man named Joe, with a desk job in Shenton Way, is so numbed by the experiences of his life that he thinks nothing of his wife leaving him. He meets Eston on the way home one day, and is forced to confront his past and his suppressed memories, allegorically represented in terms of a journey down an MRT tunnel.

In 'The Jungle' Eston slides into the role of a real estate agent who brings a group of four colleagues to see a property located in the middle of nowhere. The plane crashes, and Eston helps the survivors confront their fears and insecurities as he leads them out of the jungle.

>>'The Fun Stage deserves plaudits for a daring effort at a difficult text and for introducing us to Eston, the concept'

'Eston' the novel, is Stella Kon's favourite work, and an eclectic piece of writing with influences (according to the blurb) from Stephen King, Tolkien, and M. Scott Peck. I saw elements of the Matrix, Touched by an Angel and Missy Elliott thrown in as well, but maybe that's just me. What is undeniable is that the novel catapults between conventional storytelling and dreamlike tracts written in a stream of consciousness. This makes the novel a difficult, though compelling, read. It makes the translation of the novel into a play an absolute nightmare.

Director Benny Lim rises admirably to the challenge. Flashbacks to Joe's childhood, including a traumatic visit to Haw Par Villa, as well as Joe's innermost thoughts and fears are cleverly staged using video. Some of the best video images mirror Joe's mind, linking words together in three-dimensional space. Similar techniques are used in 'The Jungle', but to a lesser degree of success. The focus in 'The Jungle' is on the actors, which makes the story easier for the audience to understand perhaps, but makes the performance less interesting.

The acting was competent but unspectacular. Dwayne Tan's icy disposition suited the character of Eston very well, although certain sections of the text called for at least a modest display of emotion. Ben Yeung was good in his role with clean, sharp physical movements; but he needs speech lessons - and because of him, some of the best lines in 'The Tunnel' were lost. Richard Chua, did a good job in 'The Jungle' playing the arsehole boss. He added a Beng twist to the role that is completely missing from the book, but this gave the character some flavour.

The staging could have been more exciting. ESTON should have been an assault on all the senses. The text left room for so much more in the way of background noise. Putting up this play on a traditional elevated stage was a waste because it turned a three-dimensional text into a two-dimensional performance. Better if this had been staged with an audience surrounded - besieged almost - by video screens and live actors. In 'The Jungle', the floor of the stage is covered with dry leaves. I would have liked to feel the crackle of those leaves under my feet. I would have liked to have the actors up close, to have had the chance to stare Eston right in the eye. It would have been that kind of intimacy that would have given the theatre version an edge over the book.

Instead you end up with a play that pales in comparison with the novel. Kon is partly to blame for this. Her two selected chapters for staging are not the best chapters in her book. At the very least she should have added 'The Valley' and done a triple-bill. In this final chapter of the book, we are told the story of Eston's death through the eyes of a gay man. Here is some of the finest writing by Kon. Here too is an ending that elevates Eston, the superhuman being who must die like a man, to Christ-like proportions.

Despite its weaknesses, The Fun Stage deserves plaudits for a daring effort at a difficult text and for introducing us to Eston, the concept. All of us have our own Estons - our own versions of beings who seem to transcend this world, our crutches and crucifixes, that give us solace when we need it most, and teach us the words we need to get by.