Thursday, June 26, 2008

Short + Sweet Singapore

In the third week of the Short+Sweet Singapore play festival, ten plays of varying quality were staged at NAFA’s Studio Theatre. In less than two hours, audiences were treated with ten ten-minute long performances that tackled themes ranging from sex to consumerism to cultural identity and suicide.

Playwright Jerome Parisse’s Smell the Roses, directed by Candice de Rozario, tried to dissect the (non-existent) sexual life of a Singaporean couple. A few years into their marriage, Andrew and Maree had seen a near total decline in their sexual attractiveness for each other—not only a disappointment for themselves but also for Maree’s mother who wanted to be a grandmother. One day when Andrew is alone at home and helping himself with some porn on TV, his wife and mother-in-law catch him “smelling the roses”. The touch of comedy in this light-weight relationship play set the mood for the evening.

Mark Friend’s Ledge Fetish, directed by Michael Wang, took everyone by surprise because of its weird theme but it turned out to be hugely satisfying and was clearly one of the most well-written and well-performed plays of the lot. An accountant, played by Musa Fazal, has a fetish for ledges and windows of old buildings. One day he is indulging in his fetish when he is spotted in the act by a shoeshine girl, played by Julie Wee. The exchange between them takes fascinating turns, stoking the imagination of the members of the audience. Julie’s Juno-like performance and easy charm enthralled the audience.

Changing the gears was another Singapore themed-play, Sharon’s Scrumptious Pineapple Cake (Playwright: Leon Foo, Director: Sharon Lin). Two daughters reach their mother’s place with two contrasting news—one wants to divorce her husband and another wants to get married to an elderly man. The mother is at first distraught and heartbroken to hear the secrets that were brought to her and she berates her daughters at their stupid decisions. But then as they quarrel and argue, the mother gives in and acquiesces to their decisions, respecting their right to be happy in their own ways. In the acting department in this play, the mother easily takes the cake.

Ken Mizusawa’s Free Fall (directed by Geraldine Paul) deals with a dark theme: suicide. A man, driven to commit suicide by the ever-changing demands of his workplace, climbs the top of a building to “take control of his death”. But even there, he cannot commit the act in peace as he is interrupted by a student who is there to do research on suicide. The play’s premise was good but including too many characters somehow diluted its effectiveness.

Carolyn Seet’s The Bank (directed by Jamie Cant) is not a normal bank. It can also be a place of seduction. Sounds weird? But bank employee Stephanie (Jeane Raveendran) makes it deliciously believable. The Bank was like a one-character play and Jeane did well to hold the audience’s attention through her soap opera performance.

The next two plays, Are you wanting greater coverage? (playwright Raksha Mahtani and director Nur Sahirrah Safit) and Native Speaker (playwright: Dean Lundquist; Director: Muhammad Faizad Salim) tackle serious themes of identity and racism. While the first one is an exchange between a bored Chindian girl and an Indian call centre guy (who calls in from UK, short for Uttra Khand), the second one is set as an interview piece where a white man is hiring for the position of a “native speaker”. The interviewee insists that she is a native speaker. The position is closed, says the interviewer, because, it emerges, the interviewee does not look like a native speaker. A long argument follows between the two characters that explores the racist biases but it all ends with a twist in the tail—which I could guess coming.

Raksha Mahtani’s play has some clever lines but it fails to fully explore the issues of identity and culture. To be honest, there is only so much one can do in ten minutes. In that perspective, it was a commendable effort.

Verena Tay’s Imperfect Family Recipes (director: Claude Girardi) is about generation gap and old age. It had an old and infirmed character as its main protagonist who vented her feeling out through her pre-recorded monologues. I found it clever and the video’s production quality was quite good. For its sheer innovativeness of presentation, this play deserves appreciation.

Also different in presentation was Alex Broun’s Somewhere Between the Sky and the Sea (director: Rayann Condy) but the theme was trite: a lyricist torn between two beautiful women. Truth be told, I quite enjoyed it.

The last production, Permission to Use Fire (writer/director: Richard Lord) was the darkest of all the plays in this lot. A failed illusionist gets a rare gift just about when he is about the kick the game for good. Intriguing, isn’t it? You have to watch it to believe it.

In all, most of the plays were above average and if you get a chance, catch some of the good ones this Friday at the Esplanade.

More play reviews by other writers are here.

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