Living In A Box
TNS challenges heartlanders with deconstruction
By Cyril Wong
Close - In My Face
This time around, although The Necessary Stage’s latest production pandered to the artistic tolerance level of a more general audience, there were still touches of the now-trademark wit and unclichéd flashes of epiphany which saved Close - In My Face from being a forgettable experience.
In typical TNS style, which may prove tiresome after watching so many of their productions in the same vein, there are the usual modes of deconstructivism and self-reflexivity which operate through the breaking down of various linear narratives, or through the breaking down of barriers between acting and personal confession, which, interestingly enough, mirrors one of the play’s theme of the disparity between the public and private in the context of everyday life in the HDB heartlands. Andrew Seow “confesses” to having a phobia of people falling off buildings and plunging pass his bedroom window to Soh Hwee Yan and Aziz Mustajab, who both play an inter-racial couple during the rest of the play.
In one of the play’s many corny moments – which would probably touch the hearts of an audience weaned on maudlin movies, cliché-ridden music, and a-dime-a-dozen soap operas – Andrew Seow interrupts the conversation of both actors to praise their characters for their courage in getting married despite societal prejudice. This, and shudder-inducing lines emotionally enunciated by Hennedige about how flat-dwellers live in a box within a box make Close - In My Face almost unbearable to swallow at times. But then, one must remember that this is “community theatre,” and a strategy by TNS to bring theatre to the masses. If such a strategy manages to educate more Singaporeans about play-watching, who is to say they will not move on to enjoy more intellectually-stimulating stuff?
Amidst the many fragments of daily life intertwined into the play’s already complicated web of events, including synchronized movements like imitating a Hello-Kitty doll, Soh’s and Aziz’s performances stand out above the rest for their unaffected accent and palatable emotionality, even if their story is not sufficiently fleshed out. Another story about a crow, played to perfection by Kumar with his own brand of comic self-reflexivity, who keeps begging not to be shot by a crow-killer, works simply because of our homegrown drag-queen extraordinaire. His undeniable comic timing certainly upped the play’s entertainment value. His heartfelt performance of an Indian girl who arranges for a party in her flat, to which none of her invited neighbours comes, is appropriately moving.
A memorable and funny moment – and the only moment that came close to being profound – in the play was when four of the characters played clothes on a line which were also symbols of the countries where each of them was made. Hennedige had to represent China, of course, just to make it even funnier. Serena Ho, representing a Singaporean top, decides to take the plunge and climb off the line to fly into the wind, watched on in horror and envy by the others. A bit corny, but poignant nonetheless.
Playing a mother who has to let her daughter – played by Grace Tan – leave Singapore forever to live in Australia, Serena Ho is devastatingly good as she emotes some of the best lines in the play. This happens when they are both in the lift and Serena, as the mother, talks about how as the lift falls, the descent becomes a trip down memory lane, as each floor represents a year in her daughter’s life: when the lift reaches the first floor, she remembers what her daughter was like when she was one. It is a moment that almost becomes hysterical Taiwanese drama, but both actresses stop admirably short of overreaching into shrill melodrama.
Corniness and melodrama aside, the play still manages to challenge audiences into dwelling on its subject matter in a way that is both intelligent and entertaining. Close - In My Face effectively treads that fine line between pandering to and challenging its audience.QLRS Vol. 2 No. 1 Oct 2002