gambitch - now available in blue Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Yesterday evening, I was put through the misfortune of having dinner at home with the TV on.
Bombarded with the over-the-top chest-thumping ostentatious loud images and sounds that screamed out of the black box, I did the only thing I could do.
I kept my eyes away from the TV set, hastily finished my dinner, and went to sleep.
And now I awake, ready to greet the world again.
Only, of course, the rest of the city is asleep. gambitch [
Sunday, August 06, 2006
I went to catch this play last night by the name of Homesick. It wasn't a bad play, and it was the first time I had actually watched anything at this new place simply called the Drama Centre. Okay, it doesn't score high on the creativity list, but it's simple. And besides, who really needs to know what the place is called, suffice to say it's a place to catch some decent theatre? That's all we need.
Anyway, some background about the play. It turns out that it's written by a friend of mine - and actually that's one of the most important reasons behind me choosing to catch it. He's been at it for quite a while now, and it really has been a long time since we last caught up. Nice to see each other and know that it's all good for him. He has been busy for a little while, and just recently became a resident playwright, which is sorta nice since it means stability.
The play is essentially set against the backdrop of this really horrible thing that happened back in around 2003, when parts of Asia were swept by this disease called SARS. It's some kind of contagious flu-like disease, and because it had apparently hit epidemic levels back then (though I didn't feel it), the affected countries started to do this quarantine thing just to make sure the spread of the disease would be contained.
Enter this family, whose old man went into hospital because of some sort of flu-like symptoms. Now, it's a traditional family, so the kids, all of whom had been spending their time overseas, all flew back wondering what was going on. One by one they came back, baggage - of the physical as well as emotional kind - and all. Suddenly five siblings who had virtually never seen each other for years upon years were thrown together into a single building - their traditional old home - for the first time since they had all flown the nest.
It gets worse, of course. Dad, who never appears throughout the play, turns out to have been suspected of contracting SARS. So, the whole family is quarantined inside the house by government order, meaning they did not have freedom of movement out. Of course, that means they had to live with each other, as potentially grating that suggestion would be to all of them. You'd think this shouldn't be a problem, since they are family. But then they all have issues with each other. I could write them out one by one, but that'd be seriously slapping a spoiler. So, I shall not.
Gradually the family has to come to terms with one another, and it isn't an easy process. It is made even more difficult by the abrupt appearance of a young Chinese woman, who has to pose as the girlfriend of one of the sons, who has been based in China. It turns out that this young woman is not what she is claimed to be, of course. Come on, not everything in theatre is what it first seems to be. So suddenly there is a secret to hide from the mother, and that secret unfortunately could not be hidden forever. This leads to consequences which shape what happens to the family at the very end. It suffices for me to say that everyone moves out of the house at the end of the quarantine period - including the mother.
I'm not about to give away the whole plot, but perhaps it's fair for me to review the play a bit. I'll start by commenting that the two-parter, at two hours, was pretty entertaining with its moments of laughs, but it was not really meant to be funny, and that's done nicely once you get past the laughs, most of which were loaded into the first hour. Unfortunately, the first hour was also loaded with too many stereotypical castings of the various children, who are supposedly heavily influenced by the cultures they have adopted and imbibed. There's the son who is a university lecturer or something like that in England, the daughter who married an Indian and set up family in America, the pseudo-Communist Chinese cultural believer, the loud anti-establishment demonstration-frequenter daughter who refuses to fall in love, much less marry and settle down, and the son who has been brought up in boarding school in Australia. All the stereotypes get played up inside the first hour.
As my friend explained afterwards, the stereotyping was done out of necessity to quickly sharpen their character caricatures before proceeding to undo them one by one, just to show how untrue these lazy stereotypes are. Point taken, but still, it didn't make for the most fantastic start. The tensions do play out better later on in the story, and as usual it's the second hour where things really get involved and interesting. The first hour is just about setting up.
I think the character I had the strongest resonance with was the eldest son Herbert, the one who lived in England. You'd have thought he had it good out there, doing all the research and education stuff he simply seemed to like. He's also got a wonderful wife, "the English rose" as she's referred to. And then it suddenly turns out they're divorced. Shortly after it's revealed that the cause was alcoholism on her part, and that far from the fine teacher that she was, lofted onto that high pedestal, her real job and status was much more mortal. You think that's bad? There's one more twist in the tale later, which just goes to show how much Herbert had to hide to all the various parties he was interacting with.
It's painful being Herbert, if you look beyond the way he seems to tickle himself with his snooty yet poorly-hidden sexual references. Things like that "paddles and spanking" joke come to mind when he speaks of table tennis; it's amazing the extent to which he cannot contain himself when he talks about the whole idea in the first place. It's not terribly funny to me, but then I'm not so twisted. And therein lies the tragedy of Herbert - the pains to which he twists himself just to retain some semblance of sanity, yet by the time he's done, he looks like a grossly dysfunctional misfit.
Actually, the family's full of these grossly dysfunctional misfits in their various ways. They've never really fitted into one another. The family has struggled to click, and now they have the ten days of their quarantine period to sort these things out. Not that they really want to, but if they're about to live with one another, it's something they have to do, subconsciously if not deliberately. Herbert's just the most painful representation among the lot. In fact, to what I can recall, his level of interaction with his siblings is arguably the lowest of the lot. Patrick and Daphne interact decently with each other, Arthur manages oddly well, and Manoj is a vital link-man to the males in the family. But Herbert and his sister Marianne... Well.
But enough about Herbert. There are plenty of other scenes that don't directly involve him, and some of them are pretty interesting. Perhaps the most interesting to look at would be the young one Patrick. From the guy who was so insistent on wearing pyjamas when going to sleep, to switching to T-shirts, to eventually going topless, this was an interesting transition over time in showing the extent to which he was gradually adapting to the hot, humid environment he was now finding himself in. Of course, it gets kinda funny when he suddenly realizes Cindy has stepped into the room. Cindy being a woman outside of the family in bloodline terms, you can imagine Patrick being shy about being in the same room as her, and hence the rush to cover himself up. It's amusing, really.
There are also other amusing moments, like when Daphne runs away from the quarantine and eventually starts caring about cats. And then she stays over with a guy - gasp! - who also cares about cats. You'd think romance is in the air and stuff like that, and indeed that's the kind of cheap comment you get from the family. I can't blame them, because there is the potential. Not very much happens from this story branch, however, which is just as well. It'd be too dramatic a turn to be believable.
There are many other things to remember from this play, which is why it's a little odd to read various conflicting reviews of it. But then that's the beauty of theatre reviewing. You get a generous mix of responses from people who all see it from different perspectives, and that does in a way set you thinking about the range of opinions that can exist, and the personalities and expectations that go behind those opinions.
What this play has inspired in me, though, was a certain observation about tensions between people who are supposed to be of the same family. And if the old Chinese belief of the family as being the next biggest unit after the state is to be considered, then the dysfunctionality of this family really reflects a certain uncomfortable dysfunctionality of society at large. It's a powerful and poignant message to be read and deliberated. I'm not entirely sure I can digest it in one sitting, and neither can most of us. But this was a very good, interesting play, and I really liked it when I stepped out of the auditorium.
One down, several more to go... This is going to be some month! gambitch [