>HELLCAB by Famous Door Theatre

>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 12 jun 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall, raffles hotel
>rating: ***1/2

>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 thought a static cab (sans hood and back doors) would double as a confessional that even the Pope would envy? HELLCAB reveals through its shifting, abrupt scenes private lives that get thrust upon a hapless cab-driver.

Like a worn out engine on an icy cold day, HELLCAB took a while to start up. While most of the scenes last no more than a few minutes, they provide precious insight into the cab-driver, the play's primary character. Played by Larry Neumann, Jr., the man behind the wheel slowly gains depth by interacting with each passenger. Thus, the "minor" characters serve the important function of bringing out and adding to the cab-driver's character. At times charming, empathetic and smooth but also phobic, argumentative and tactless, this cab-driver acquires a roundness due largely to Neumann's credible acting.

>>'The audience can almost feel the biting chill that is Chicago at Christmastime'

Because the minor characters number close to 40, the five cast members who shouldered these roles had to slip in and out of them as fast they could change costumes. Deserving special mention is Craig Boyd, who plays out a swanky basket case, a gangland bad-mouthing boyfriend, and a gentle kind soul with equal ease - easily the night's most winsome actor.

Though stationary, HELLCAB speeds into alleyways of "expected" endings and brakes to crashing revisions: thrashing, screaming and cursing her husband, a woman (whose water just broke) manages a calm "I'm sorry... Thanks" to the cab-driver once they reach the hospital; a physically powerful and verbally abusive boyfriend from the south side is restrained by his girlfriend's "You hit me and I'll scratch out your eyeballs!"; finally, a brooding, hooded man crackling with danger turns out to be a harmless Yuletide well-wisher. These vignettes are cleverly interspersed with other scenes that range from the salacious and bizarre to the grim and the reflective. The audience is thus thrown into a cab-driver's increasing bewilderment and made to empathise with him.

Through during- and after-encounter commentary, the cab driver harks to ideals raging from colour-blindness, altruism to romantic bliss. However, the fleeting encounters reveal the glaring shortfall between appearance (ideal) and reality: after all is said and done, blacks from Southeast Chicago are still dangerous; a rape victim's fare should still be accepted; and a doting couple actually harbours a callous lout. Even as the cab-driver reels from "privileged revelation", the audience becomes drawn into his growing agitation and helplessness. As he winces at the fallen state of humanity, the audience can almost feel the biting chill that is Chicago at Christmastime.

In HELLCAB, it's not so much the cabbie who "drive[s] for Satan" but to find those precious few who do not.