The young & W!LD team is back with Crossings this weekend, a double-bill production that serves up some rather bold juxtapositions. Take for instance the fact that Crossings plays at Centre 42 at Bras Basah, right across from the church volunteer-run Crossings Café. Coincidence? Perhaps not. young & W!LD’s latest batch of young theatre-makers seem keen to shake things up a little for the Singaporean theatre-goer. If, like me, you wish to find out what might be brewing in their minds, then Crossings – the show, not the café, is the place to go.
In the first segment titled The Mother, The Son and the Holy Ghost, a chance encounter between social justice warrior Vix (Jasmine Blundell) and an elderly woman (Natalie Koh) is explored, the latter of whom is plagued with a slippery memory and Ah Boon, her middle-aged son vexed by his filial responsibilities (Aeron Ee). The play refreshes theatre’s depiction of a Singaporean-Chinese family struggle with a millennial character and her social media-driven intervention.
The script, however, seems to have merely scratched the surface in addressing the inter-generational gaps between the characters, resorting instead to comic conveniences to exemplify the differences. In one scene, for example, Vix teaches the elderly woman the common crude retort young people use.
Moments like these seem to try and compensate for the fact that tensions between characters often get lost. This is perhaps encumbered by the fact that the tech-savvy Vix, like many of us, is often talking to a screen rather than a person. The amnesiac moments of the elderly woman also leave the audience wanting, not just to fill in the gaps of her memory but also to find the rhythm in the dialogue. Then again, it might have been the director’s attention that the audience struggles with these palpably empty moments.
Yet, set up against the ghosts of these dramatic tensions, Ah Boon’s tantrums echo into a void. The play nevertheless manages to finish on a poignant note with its fable-like final scene, though it might seem a little too late for the audience to get inside the heads of the characters.
In comparison, the second piece Arbitrio left one feeling that it was “(q)uite remarkable”, to quote Mel Bickham’s Bearded Man character. Arbitrio’s clever title derives from how it describes three different arbitrary events happening in one play.
The play takes on a meta-theatrical slant with the introduction of this actor-playwright figure, who bears the likeness of a Messianic figure, auditioning for a part. Having failed to convince in the role of the Messiah, the Bearded Man auditions his script instead, thus enlisting the help of actor-characters Danielle and Chris in the presentation. The Bearded Man’s arbitrary story, in which he has also cast himself, the lesbian bookstore keeper Lenora (Alison Bickham) and the crazy ex-girlfriend Michelle (Jasmine Blundell, again) is a thoroughly inventive exploration of in/fidelity.
Which roles should we stay faithful to? Fulfilling one’s duties as the lawfully wedded wife, or running away with the unexpected love of one’s life? Taking responsibility for the illegitimate child or sticking by the apparently barren spouse? Each character is ensnared in conflicts between duty and desire, self-expectations and the expectations of others. Sharmaine Goh and Krish Natarajan slip into their leading roles as Danielle and Chris effortlessly, bringing to life a believably unfulfilling marriage – each finds in another woman a new piece to their puzzle of happiness. Within an hour, the play whizzes us through scenes of marital bliss, extramarital seduction and even murder with little compromise to the characters’ development.
The play also manages to sidestep most clichés with its wit and self-reflexivity. Put another way, the intensity of Danielle and Chris’ crumbling marriage is at once serious and treated anti-seriously. The Bearded Man embodies the play’s irreverence for the status quo with his conspicuous interventions, such as when he plays Lenora’s wingman, enabling an extramarital affair which rescues Danielle from her husband’s neglect. Even more conspicuous is his use of a reception bell to cue the entries and exits of the characters, all of which foreground the play as a construction.
The brilliance of the script and the ensemble’s performance lies in its ability to meld both the fiction and its meta-fictive elements without detracting from the audience’s engagement with the play. Consequently, when everything boils down to yet another false start in the final scene, the audience is left with a surprisingly satisfying cliffhanger: neither ending (happy marriage or extramarital bliss) is fulfilled and one is transported back to the beginning where they are greeted with multiple forking paths. The final complete play, if it exists, is thus left to one’s imagination.
Crossings presents two works with considerably different ambitions, perhaps intended for different audiences as well. Their varied success is thus likely to be more reflective of the ensembles’ strengths and/or this reviewer’s inclinations than it is a measure of their ability. If the latter of the two plays should be an indication of their creative direction as a group, then perhaps there will be more in store for those who have enjoyed it, in young and W!LD’s upcoming production in June. For now, it is on to you to grab those last-minute tickets so as to witness for yourself the creative potential of this batch of young and W!LD theatre-makers.
By Nigel Choo for Bakchormeeboy.com
Crossings plays at the Centre 42 Black Box from 15-19 February. Tickets available from Peatix