>3 MEN MEET 3 WOMEN by The Substation

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 23 jul 2004
>time: 8pm
>venue: guinness theatre, the substation
>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.


3 MEN MEET THREE WOMEN is advertised as three male directors (Sonny Lim, Ferlin Jayatissa and Richard Chua) taking on three scripts about three women (played by Ernest Seah, Elizabeth de Roza and Jocelyn Chua) written by one woman (Verena Tay). In addition, as Lim pointed out to me, the audience should watch all three performances of the run because on each night, each actor will take on a different monologue. A simple enough conceit but one which opens the scripts up to some very interesting possibilities.

Sadly, this reviewer was not able to catch all three shows; on the other hand, one suspects that many audience members would probably not have been able to either. So it is from that humble position that I share my thoughts.

All three monologues (which had been written by Tay and then handed over to the directors) dealt with distinctly female preoccupations, if stereotypes are to be believed - neuroses about a lover, shopping for shoes and workplace bitching. These "perils of modern life" are then complicated for our protagonists by the judgment of others, whether it is a parent, a sibling, a co-worker or, interestingly, in Richard Chua's piece, the director. Such judgments again constitute a common trope in so-called "women's writing", in which the woman is trapped or silenced. So far so 'Women Who Run with the Wolves' but the problem is that the scripts never rose beyond these conventions. They came across more as interesting ideas than as fully-formed scripts replete with engaging characters and enticing theatricality. Yes, there were moments you could laugh along with but it is not enough for a script to merely bring attention to something interesting. The foibles of the modern woman we already know from reading 'Her World' magazine.

>>'As Meatloaf once sang, "Two out of three ain't bad"'

And so the first monologue about a woman waiting for her lover (**) merely meandered along rather pointlessly and repetitively, and was certainly not worth the pay-off that came at the end. Director Ferlin Jayatissa and actress Chua, likewise, seemed content simply to put the play on, and while neither was in any way noticeably bad, there was nothing to praise about either of their contributions. They were just there. It was like re-reading an old issue of 'Her World' magazine.

The second piece of the evening, 'The Perfect Shoe'(***), however, saw the start of an upward swing with director Lim making the most of de Roza's experience in physical theatre, and giving Tay's script the lift it needed. This story about a woman searching for the perfect pair of shoes came alive in de Roza's re-telling, which had her twisting and turning, running around and rolling all over the place. Sure, it was all a little over the top and de Roza's vocal performance needed work (there were some odd word stresses and pauses) but her energy, charm and sincerity were infectious and hey, even Madonna gets breathless when she is singing and dancing at the same time.

The final piece, 'Jiving with Java' (***1/2) about a woman who dreams of revenge and escape from her office life similarly relied on the director and actor to give the writing the texture and colour it needed. Here, director Chua decided to play a rehearsal of the script over the speakers, which allowed Chua and actor Seah to inject their own (often hilarious and pointed) out-of-character comments into the script. This was complemented by Seah in a wordless (and flawless) performance on-stage putting on make-up and costume to prepare for a Chinese opera dance performance and responding with little gestures to the voice-over as if (s)he is "remembering" the scene. Allusions to the theme of masks and make-up and the playing of roles aside, it gave the piece a theatricality and visuality that was stunning to behold, especially in the moments when Seah froze in the mirror as if forever captured in the frame of a picture.

All in all, the evening seemed more like a work-in-progress than a polished piece of work with even 'Jiving With Java' needing tidying up in terms of sound quality and bits of pacing - but still, the final two pieces largely overcame the mediocrity which threatened to plague the evening; and as Meatloaf once sang, "Two out of three ain't bad".