>THE PROMISED LAND by Les Deux Mondes & Teatro Dell' Angolo

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 19 jun 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>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.


It became very clear a few minutes into THE PROMISED LAND that those looking for the familiar texture of the traditional structure of narration and plot were going to be sorely disappointed. Gone was the reassuring feel of the Aristotelian theatre where the audience was asked to identify with the characters in their quest for catharsis. Instead the play is reduced to the bare crux, a minimalist concept in which the characters no longer seem to matter and the linear plot redundant. There are no words in the play whatsoever and we do not see the faces of the characters except for one final part. Instead we see only their legs and hands. What we have left is the essence of all plays - the story, the tale, the passion.

Through the silent narrator, the audience is shown a myriad of human lives albeit all caught at a still frame, each isolated in a few minutes of poignancy. From the sensuous garden of Adam and Eve, we are brought to the cave of the Paleolithic Man, then to the voyager reaching the new found land, to a pregnant woman from the first few settlers, to that child already a boy playing hop scotch , then to a fisherman killing a fish .... the story goes and on and on. Eventually it will lead the audience through a short glimpse of history from the rock's perspective, a small isolated piece of history but yet at the same time universal in nature.

>>'The play engages the audience with poignant scenes of human foibles and follies'

It became very evident as each faceless actor walked across the stage that there was no need for any intellectual pretensions, for any critical analysis of hidden symbolism. There was no cloak-and-dagger games of theme spotting nor was there any demand on the play's part for stylistic veneers. What the play did deliver was a magical ride through this common thread we call humanity.

With generous doses of humour and compassion, the play engages the audience with poignant scenes of human foibles and follies. The play breathed poetry into the elements when we are presented with a nude Adam sleeping - under the stars, on the naked soil. One hand caressing the body while pouring clumps of soil, we are reminded that we are never far removed from the barest forms of creation. All these snapshots were kept realistic and natural with each frame showing familiar activities, each one very much part of our banal existence but made refreshing by the injection of a new perspective. Many scenes stood out due to the director's eye for visual juxtaposition and an intricate grasp of a beauty we do not usually see in reality. While we might not see any redeeming quality in war, a single bouquet of roses against the grey slab of stone was a stark reminder of the beauty of life, a flaming red testimony to the richness of life as seen here in the play.

With an amazing economy of effort and words, the play managed to cross cultural barriers, showing us that the emotions we have, the experiences we hold are as universal as the earth beneath us and the sky above us. Discarding structure and conventional definition, THE PROMISED LAND is a courageous piece of work. Furthermore it reminds us all that the best stories are not those told with the biggest sets or the snazziest publicity but rather those told with honesty, passion and love. It is as simple as that.