‘My name is Risa, which means laughter.’ These are the words that start us off on an intense journey of self-reflection into the mind of 28 year old Risa (Ellison Tan) as she speaks to Dr Robert, her $280/hour psychiatrist about her life.
Penned by rising star Michelle Tan, who was nominated for a Life! Theatre Award for Best Script in 2017, I Am Trying To Say Something True is written with a deft hand and a clear voice, devastating in its familiarity and confident in its portrayal of a young woman’s continued struggle with love lost, religion and sexuality. Risa is a demanding character, requiring her actor to display a woman who has been broken time and time again by her inner demons and fear of telling the truth to the ones closest to you. Issues of communication frequently arise over the course of the play; the simplicity of receiving and understanding an SMS informing Risa of her grandmother’s death is contrasted with the complexities of her parents demanding an update of her love life, and the way she sidesteps the issue by informing them of her whereabouts. In trying to hide her struggle with depression, she only responds with ‘I’m tired’ when asked, and it becomes clear that the truth is something that becomes increasingly hard to pin down and admit even to herself.
However, in playing the character of Risa, Ellison’s performance though sufficient, lacks a conviction that prevents us from truly connecting and believing in the words that she speaks. A moment in which Risa is meant to have a deeply affecting breakup comes off as insincere when she breaks down in tears, and it almost always feels like Ellison is acting, but not truly embodying Risa. Bani Haykal’s incidental music helps immerse us into the play’s world somewhat, with realistic sounds of Risa’s psychiatrist stirring a mug of coffee or the sound of bubble wrap popping signifying immense psychological stress, but still, Risa always feels physically and emotionally distant, talking at us, but not to us.
Michelle Tan knows how to wield emotion like a sword, cutting deep with her words, but is let down by its execution, which would have benefitted from a performance with more conviction. I Am Trying To Say Something True is a relatable story which is certain to resonate with audiences still searching for a way to admit the truth, and perhaps will find the courage to, as Risa convinces herself to sit down in front of her mum with tea to calm and tissue for tears, to finally tell her something true.
Photos by Crispian Chan, courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Performance attended 12/4/18
I am trying to say something true plays from 12th – 15th April at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Tickets available from The Esplanade.