Arts Review Singapore Theatre

★★★★☆ Review: Straight Acting by Wild Rice

Starting the family you want, against all odds.

Being gay in Singapore has never been easy. From being unable to officially recognise same-sex partners, to incurring the ire of more conservative family members, there are times it’s simply easier to hide one’s sexuality for the sake of fitting in and staying discreet.

However, for queer couples Jaime and Olivia (Eve Voigtlander and Deonn Yang), and housemates Russell and Jia Ming (Tan Shou Chen and Darren Guo), they’re taking straight acting to the next level. Written and directed by Thomas Lim, Straight Acting sees the two couples ‘gaming the system’ by getting married to each other as heterosexual partners, allowing them to enjoy the same benefits straight couples do, from applying for cheaper BTO flats, to having their own biological children without the need for an expensive surrogate.

The fundamental issue of Straight Acting is quite simply the exorbitant price that a queer family pays to be out in Singapore, a privilege reserved only for those earning within a certain income bracket. Even if you’re not a queer person yourself, Straight Acting’s concerns are strikingly relatable, representing the fears and frustrations of balancing the bills against the ever-rising cost of living, magnified by the additional pressures of queer life.

Thomas’ skill as a playwright is more evident than ever, tackling such a stressful and sensitive subject with nuance and a healthy amount of wit and humour. Much of the play’s success is derived from his ability to write realistic, recognizable characters and dialogue, and how the cast’s strong chemistry makes it feel as if they’ve truly spent years living together. One cannot help but feel joy as they reminisce over how they met and became housemates, rife with hope as their foolproof plan seems poised for success. This is helped by Wong Chee Wai’s set, where the couples’ shared flat contains carefully curated photos and furniture that make it feel like a real, lived space.

As a director, Thomas knows the ins and outs of his script, and has managed to place the characters’ relationship front and centre of every scene. One example is the friendship between Jaime and Russell, where Shou Chen and Eve exemplify gay best friends. Whether it’s cooking to fulfil Jaime’s midnight cravings, or playful banter over whether the lesbians or gays ‘have it worse’, one can feel a genuine outpouring of love in their interactions (as a newcomer, Eve’s potential is evident, and it is inevitable we see more of her onstage).

Thomas’ knack for visual humour is also made clear, and provides a laugh out loud moment as Jia Ming arrives home, shocked to see his three housemates in questionable yoga positions. This is quickly followed by a clever, perfectly choreographed where the couples attempt to get pregnant, as the couples go in and out of their respective rooms to get the job done, with minimal dialogue.

Light-hearted segments aside, the cracks in their plan begin to show when Olivia is forced to play up the facade in front of Jia Ming’s mother (Goh Guat Kian, stealing every scene she appears in). Deonn Yang is excellent at playing up Olivia’s awkwardness as they concoct a garbled story of how the ‘couple’ met, and when they reach the eventual wedding, she delivers on playing a nervous bride-to-be, absolutely detesting the dog and pony show. All of this builds up to an audaciously campy wedding scene, complete with clouds of dry ice, cheesy baby photo montage and cringeworthy couple hashtag; one can’t help but laugh and applaud as the ‘happy couple’ raise a toast.

Maintaining the act can only last so long however, and when Jia Ming’s mother begins dropping by unannounced, she begins to grow suspicious of the whole set-up. When his mother delivers a sucker punch of a truth bomb to Jia Ming over his ‘bad habits’, Darren and Guat Kian’s performances reflect the same degree of shock we feel when the conversation takes such a sharp turn. This precipitates the play’s denouement, where a series of arguments unearth a rarely discussed topic – how coming out can still be difficult today. As much as we live in a Westernised society where coming out should be celebrated, Jia Ming’s scenes (and Darren’s frustrated, conflicted performance) showcase the discomfort it can cause, and the unspoken discrimination certain groups within the gay community feel for not conforming to certain stereotypes.

Queer storylines in film and onstage often end in tragedy, but Straight Acting bucks the trend, and neatly resolves the major conflicts by having the friends talk it out, and a hopeful future for everyone. As ironically heteronormative as the whole idea of producing offspring is, and how easily resolved everything is, what hits hard about Straight Acting is the pure sense of relief we feel seeing how the couples have created a happy household by the end of the play, redefining what it means to be a family on their own terms.

Even amidst the odds, queer people always find a way to survive and make it work. With a fantastic cast, and a confidently penned script that will leave you with a smile, there is an immense sense of comfort and joy Straight Acting offers in showing queer people with a resoundingly satisfactory ending, and that members of the LGBTQ+ community do deserve their happiness shaped according to how they want it.

Photo Credit: Ruey Loon Photography

Straight Acting runs from 4th to 24th October 2021 at Wild Rice @ Funan. Tickets are sold out. More information available here

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