Saturday, August 27, 2011
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This is (if I understand correctly) young stage actor Marvin Wong's first foray into stage directing, which consists of six mini-plays or sketches.
Jumping right into it, the first three pre-intermission plays were rather meh. The Kopitiam On Jalan Sehala features characters talking cryptically – partly because one character spends the sketch being confused – and, one feels, with dialogue that doesn't really go anywhere. Battleship is one of those plays about mother issues which I love to hate. Confessionals is a bit more fun; it's more straightforward (or more "literal", as one of my companions to the play put it), and this time the dialogue generates laughs at a few points. The third act coincidence leading to the moral resolution is a bit too tidy ... but it's okay.
It's only after the intermission that the mini-plays really engage the audience, and it seems that the director has adhered to that stageplay adage that says "audiences will forgive a lousy beginning but they will not forgive a lousy ending".
The Gift Of Mercy is a sci-fi monologue which I could easily have read myself and it would be good, but I guess there is something to being told the story through auditory means. The words do lead you in and I felt drawn to paying attention to everything that is said, as the plot, involving observations of an alien civilisation on planet Earth and the actions those observations inspire, turns tragic, before ending with an unexpected but entirely appropriate punchline. Unfortunately the actress may have been miscast, as her voice and enunciation is not the most suitable one to tell this tale; certainly the audience were restless, and I suspect few of them liked this one. I guess what I felt is that the sci-fi vibe is missing in the recitation.
The Story Of The Wanderer – now, there's a fun one. An attempt at a Western, this one features nearly a dozen actors and has fights and gunshots and is about a one-woman army who, when her timid younger sister is kidnapped by local mobsters, tears her way into the scene to save her, killing everyone who represents an obstacle to that end. In particular, my companions enjoyed the performance of Omar Ali as the archetypal bartender of the local tavern, who was given one of those characteristic smug but witty lines that are familiar to the genre but are not easy to pull off, especially by Malaysian actors, because it's so incongruent an image to see an Asian say lines like that. (He's not perfect, but it really is not bad.) It also has the best last line of any of the six plays ... or, having said that, perhaps just as good as the last one.
Enough starts off civilly, a domestic conversational scene between a husband and wife as they arrive home from a dinner with the wife's family, from which we gradually pick up on details about their most damaging current problem just from their dialogue, before the scene culminates in a crescendo of arguments and an unexpected display of anger when the seemingly submissive character takes over control and becomes the dominant one. Suffice to say, the way the story ends shocked my companions (in a good way) – and this, after I described to them how sex scenes in theatre are often not so literal but usually more symbolic or metaphorical, which we found ironic after the play. Actor Morten Stender Christensen seemed to have problems with his lines, but actress Sandee Chew nailed her performance, not just because the role demands audacity but because emotionally she was there.
I would say that the three post-intermission mini-plays saved the night. I don't hold a high regard for locally written plays (so far they've disappointed without fail), and while I don't think what I saw here was extraordinary or compares well against Western-originated plays (and I will argue that that is the benchmark we should measure ourselves against), for a young director and his troupe of writers and performers who are new to the scene, it's a considerable enough achievement that deserves encouragement.