>FIRE AND WATER by Ingot Arts

>reviewed by Daniel Teo

>date: 7 apr 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: agf theatre, alliance française
>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.


'The Knot' and 'Water from the Well' are primarily plays about the ramifications of truth in our supposed realms of reality. Both ask,"Once the gauntlet of truth is thrown, how does our own little world hold up?"

'The Knot' is the shorter play about the collapse of a marriage, seemingly perfect in the beginning but slowly unraveling under the weight of expectations. Denise Tan, the bride, is a versatile actress capable of transforming herself from the submissive oriental housewife to a woman descending into the abyss of madness within a few shifts of facial muscles. However, the groom, Gui Wei Hsin, had less luck playing the straight-laced groom who held his bride in his iron gasp. His acting was competent but too affected and polished to bring out the increasing delirium of someone on the threshold of insanity. Lacking the raw energy the bride had, he tried to compensate by peppering his lines with cries of "Honey" worthy of a cameo in "The Brady Bunch". Even his cries of angst and pain at the final show-down were too calculated and mannered to convince the audience that he was a man who had discovered that the whole foundation of his world has just been destroyed.

>>'It was unfortunate that the actors and the script did not gel well'

The chemistry between the leads was lacking precisely because Tan's Bertha Mason-inspired performance did not find a worthy sparring partner in Gui. Where the play succeeded was maintaining the so-tense-it-was-painful atmosphere that defined the relationship of the couple. The deliberate silences and side glances created more tension than the howling of the leads. Especially powerful were the non-verbal performances that showed us the inner workings of the characters - the bride slowly removing her hairpin, so simple an action yet one of the defining moments of the entire play. In contrast the hysterics and chasing dramatics in the end brought more pain to the audience's ears than it did to their hearts.

'Water from the Well' tells a macabre tale of how the destinies of two families revolve around the only well in their village. Again, the acting was competent, nothing more and nothing less. Adelina Ong was the mousy wife to Steven Tan's skeptical husband while Loretta Tan provided the token Bertha Mason character in this play by metamorphosing into the "wailing loony" at the end. More intriguing was the morbid connection between life in one household and death in the other. Muddled at the beginning, this connection would soon be revealed in the end, thus highlighting the crux of the two plays: "Does the truth change anything?"

While the plays might not have scored in the department of acting, the plays were provocative in the relentless questioning in their own desire for the truth. The symmetrical mirroring of reality showed the precariousness of reality as we know it - that truth may not be the true saviour of our souls. This Chekhovian take on the value of truth with a feminist slant did succeed the way the playwright intended it to be: raise questions within the audience in the hope that they themselves would find their own personal truths.

Yet a disturbing aspect about the two plays was the need to bring forward the playwright's point by a clichéd outburst of dementia. While subtlety may be a hard device to employ, one too many emotional explosions lose their sting upon an already numb audience. Worse were insipid lines that might have sounded clever on paper but fell flat on the stage: "You like the smell of nothingness?" "Yes, I like the smell of nothingness". It was hard to see the relevance of such lines to the play.

It was unfortunate that the actors and the script did not gel well. It was especially telling when the most poignant moment was when Denise Tan removed her hairpin, a non-verbal scene that screamed in its silence. While rantings and theatrics might have filled the theatre hall, the echo rang false within the audience's heart.