>PLASTIC WOMAN by Maya Theatre Company

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 7 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.


Legs straddling a table, groin thrusting into the face of a doll, cries of ecstasy, the distorted human face in the throes of sexual pleasure - this is the sexy and sex-filled world of PLASTIC WOMAN, a one man show starring Asadawut Luangsuntorn from Thailand, which depicts society's response to female promiscuity. In the play, the head of a doll is used to represent this 'plastic woman': she is an artificial product of a 'naughty scientist' - and in a refrain that is repeated throughout the play - we are told that she walks naked in the streets, with 'black nylon for hair, diamonds as her eyes' and 'perfect and creamy breasts', and who finding pleasure in sex, entertains men both day and night.

>>'One did not know when the Thai language stopped and the English language started'

The play attempts to portray society's reactionary response to a woman who dares to break the taboo that women are not supposed to enjoy sex (even if she is not a real woman but made of plastic). These responses are seen through the various roles which Luangsuntorn takes on - a millionaire, a monk, a family planner. And in the process of the play, the plastic woman who in the beginning was the independent site of female sexual energy and freedom, inevitably becomes a space usurped by patriarchy, in its attempts to place various socially determined forms of femininity on the plastic woman - like that of the whore and prostitute. And the tragic end of the plastic woman as she is ripped apart testifies to the inability of this Space created by the plastic woman to transcend the binary dialectic between patriarchal Self and the female Other - its attempts at sexual freedom only helped to affirm the dynamism of patriarchy in its ability to accommodate disruption and change.

Using the doll's head, and a table and pieces of white cloth as the only other props, Luangsuntorn managed with acrobatic agility and dexterity, to portray the various sexual trysts of the plastic woman through the imaginative cavorting with the table in different sexual positions. Every movement of the hip, every tilt of the head was an overt sexual suggestion, which was not only heightened by Luangsuntorn's skin-coloured tights and campy bright blue platforms, but by the skilful use of lighting, from moody ambience to painfully bright lights. And in a clever twist, Luangsuntorn put on a nightgown and attached the doll's head to the front of his chest, thus becoming at once an ambivalent space of ungendered sexuality - both the Self and the Other.

PLASTIC WOMAN could have been a triumphant play which dealt with the problematic empowerment of women through sex and sexuality. But it was sadly bogged down by the fact that despite the energetic and adept performance by Luangsuntorn, he was not proficient enough in English to carry the play. After every sentence or so in Thai, Luangsuntorn would translate it in English - but his lack of competence in English and his extremely heavy accent rendered the English parts almost as unrecognisable as Thai, such that one did not know when the Thai language stopped and the English language started. Any audience engagement was thus lost and all one could only do was to try to pick out the English words through the haze of unidentifiable language.