Yes, the end result was positive, but not good enough.
And you know what? I agree. But - as is often the case - I stand in the minority. Most are just happy with a positive outcome.
Can the guys do better than this?
We've got a week to find out. gambitch [
Sunday, January 07, 2007
We're all pretty used to seeing productions put up by established groups who've got some experience under their belts, so it shouldn't be such a bad idea to watch something that, from head to toe, was put together by a bunch of relative newbies who would like to be given a chance, right? Maybe, but I'm not too convinced about it sometimes. One of those times when I'm in doubt came earlier in the evening, when I watched this production called Spilled Milk.
Let's start with some general truths and comments to set the tone. Spilled Milk is a production done by students. Almost exclusively, too, except for some kind of expert advice from someone presumably working in the theatre industry. Apart from that, it's mostly done by people who have an interest, without necessarily knowing exactly what they are doing. Which means that you really shouldn't be asking for the moon. And I've no real reason to, after all. I knew what I was getting myself into, sort of.
Having said that, though, I must really say that I ended up being quite underwhelmed by the way the production went. Maybe it's because I'm too used to seeing the pros do it. Maybe it's because I'm not a friend of anyone who's in the production, nor do I study at the institution that put up this show. But the whole thing felt rather coarse, raw, and, depending on which perspective you want to take, either too blatant or too confusing.
But let's get to the factual parts of the production. Spilled Milk is really a doublebill of two plays, respectively entitled If Only and Chasing The Wind. The whole production was supposed to run for about 100 minutes, so each play is really estimated to be at about 45 to 50 minutes long. The two plays are supposedly separate and unrelated, although the synopsis as written on the promotional brochure appears to suggest otherwise...
I suppose there's no harm in spoilering the show, given that its two-day run would already be over by the time I post this (I watched the final performance, as it happens), and the scripts are unlikely to ever be performed in public again. Besides, it really is a whole lot more helpful for me to describe how the entire production went. For those who find such information usually sensitive, pardon me. This case deserves an exception.
The story of If Only dates back to some pretty old times - you know, when people here used to live in semi-villages instead of high-rise apartments, and the radio was this big box with a knob with plenty of noisy static. The story basically centres around a schoolgirl who's around 12 or 13, which puts her at roughly pubescent age, except she hasn't had her "first time" (you know what I mean). Said girl lives with her dad, who's basically this poor man who earns his living making wooden clogs or something like that. Traditional skills, basically. The mother's dead, and for some time too apparently. So the dad's had to play both parental roles in bringing up the poor only girl in the family.
So basically, what we have in the first scene - which runs for quite a while - is the girl expressing her love for her dad, as regular children do to their parents when they're children. But we sort of get the hint that this is no regular girl, mostly because... Well, which normal girl at 12 or 13 still enjoys licking big, colourful disc-shaped lollipops? Like she's still five or six? 'Retarded' is perhaps too strong a word to describe this girl, but I'm not terribly sure she has the mental maturity of a 13-year-old, even by 1950s standards.
Anyway, it emerges that the girl has had her "first time" shortly before the scene. Which, according to the father - apparently in line with the norms of the time - means she is now ready for marriage. Cue the usual childlike, innocent conversation about the girl wanting to spend all her life with her dad. Of course, as much as the dad loves his girl, he decides anyway that it is time she got married. And, in line with the practices of the time, that means an arranged marriage. Arranged by whom? By a matchmaker, of course.
To cut the long story short, the matchmaker (who is quite a personality, I might add) has this long conversation with the dad about her being good sisters with the dead mother, and so has a commitment to find the best husband for the daughter, blah blah blah. Eventually the matchmaker presents her proposed young man, who basically has had a decent little bit of education (well, decent by the standards of the time anyway) and is set for a promising career as an accountant (which, back in those days, was a pretty big deal, even if the pay was only for a couple of hundred dollars). Naturally, the guy's not very good at being social, being the shy educated country boy and all. Some random blushy scene follows; I guess you could call it love at first sight, that is, if both parties actually understood what love is.
I should comment that these first three scenes take up what certainly feels like a good half-hour, and at this point the story feels rather too smooth and normal and - dare I say it - peaceful. But then things take a sharp change just one scene and several years down. The passage of time is practically instant; it is several years later, and the young boy just starting out is now a fairly successful accountant, married, of course, to the girl, who we're led to believe has also grown older by a few years. We are given no meaningful hint of the evolution of this relationship, apart from being left to assume that they got married. You have to remember that arranged marriages back in those days practically never fail, at least in the sense that people do get married as a direct consequence of the matchmaking arrangement.
Anyway, the young man is now not quite as young, and certainly not quite as innocent. Evidence? How does "one-night-stand sex with the clients" sound to you? An abrupt development? Oh, hell yes! We are basically supposed to take the characters' lines for it, no nuancial, gradual developments, just a sharp change in character in a matter of seconds. Can't blame me for feeling a bit flabbergasted by this.
So the short version of it is that the guy is drunk with power, and he gets involved in a rather generous amount of sex with the clients. Not surprisingly, this leads to the girl - now turned wife (how did she grow up mentally?) - feeling confused and eventually unhappy. Top it all off with contracting some STD because of the guy's flings, and you've got quite the powderkeg ready for a blowup. And not surprisingly, the blowup does happen, and the girl gets a divorce, turns bitter as hell, hates her dad, the matchmaker and her ex-husband, and goes through some random character resolution moment.
All this in a very hastily-handled final 15 to 20 minutes.
I'm sorry, but I really don't get the script. No real levels, no gradual development, no proper hinting, just a royal mess in a badly-written second half. And I don't get the direction and interpretation either. Especially when they decided to put together some random montage of unexplained images, and play it in a slideshow with a background soundtrack that is the late Chinese songbird Teresa Teng's I Only Care About You. (For the benefit of those who don't know the song, here's a music video of it I found on YouTube.)
Maybe I'm thinking too much here, but apart from trying to tell us this story was in the past, does the choice of this song have any special meaning that warrants writing out the lyrics in the slideshow? I got no hint of it in the play. I did get a hint, though, that another blob of text that got read later in the play was presented earlier on in the slideshow. But then, isn't that being kinda too obvious in trying to push the message?
So that's my slam on If Only. At first glance, Chasing The Wind might have looked a little bit better. Come to think of it, though, perhaps not. It's another confusing work which comes across as even more pathetically forgettable.
What's the story about? Basically, it's on three adolescents, presumably doing high school or even the freshman year at university, or something around that range. The three people in question are two girls and a guy, who happen to all be friends. The character profiles are rather cardboard, actually. The main girl is essentially estranged from her mum, leads a kinda directionless life, and likes to do really puzzling things like blindfolding herself - and the main problem with that is that it stays exactly at that level: puzzling. The other girl is materialistic as anything, going after the Prada bags and stuff like that, isn't averse at all to being a high-price callgirl in order to satisfy her material wants, and apparently introduces her girl friend (the main character) to recreational designer drug injections. Then there's the guy, who's basically too much of a socially awkward nerd who, for some reason, likes to wear polo tees and khaki shorts. The combination makes him look like a hilarious inadequate 14-year-old, except he's supposedly about 20.
Tell me now, is that unrealistically cardboard, or is that unrealistically cardboard?
So anyway, the protagonist's issues with her mother get played out for all to see. They basically have a problem communicating because the girl hates her mum and the mum is saddled with the agony of living with the fact that her husband either walked out on the family or is stuck in jail. The girl does drugs (on her friend's helpful pushing) and even tries to seduce the guy (again apparently on the friend's suggestion). The other girl? No one knows what kind of trouble she gets into. The guy? Has a scene where he pretends to be some kind of pseudo-chemist studying the behavioral properties of girls and concluding with why girls are so impossible to understand.
If this sounds like a rather confused work, yes, that's what it is. A confused work.
Yet for some reason, the whole production actually got a good lot of cheering from the audience. I suppose it helps that much of the audience was actually insiders of some kind. Boyfriend of the actress, good friend of the playwright, blah blah blah. But it doesn't change the fact that the entire production was done in rather too clumsy fashion. Heck, even the post-production thank-you speech by the drama society president (or whatever equivalent officebearer) was clumsy.
All in all, the 13 bucks I spent on Spilled Milk was probably the worst-spent money I have thrown towards any theatre production. Although, if you look at it from another perspective, this was a very useful instructional experience in telling theatre enthusiasts like me what not to do when attempting to put together a theatre production for public consumption. Guys, you rented a popular public venue to put up your show. The least you can do is to at least make it look like a passable effort by amateurs, starting with your scripting and conceptualization. gambitch [