>invitation to treat: jointly and severably by w!ld rice

>reviewed by charmaine toh

>date: 12 apr 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: jubilee hall, raffles hotel
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


>>>>>TREAT OR TRICK

Sam (Melody Chen), the result of Jon and Ellen's marriage of convenience from part one, is getting engaged. Ellen (the amazing Tan Kheng Hua), lesbian, previously ambitious lawyer in big law firm, has now opened up her own little practice with a gay friend, Mark (Huzir Sulaiman). Zee (Janice Koh), a university lecturer, has been her partner for 10 years. All seems well - except for the fact that Zee has been having an affair with Nat (Adelina Ong), who happens to be both her research assistant and Sam's best friend. Ellen is at first shown to be to tolerating the affair, as long as Sam is kept in the dark and Zee continues the pretence of a happy union - and as long as Nat doesn't kick up a fuss about making things public.

In JOINTLY & SEVERABLY, W!ld Rice offered up its signature proficient directing (courtesy of, in this case, Claire Wong) and commendable acting - and as in some of its previous productions, endeavoured to tackle potentially prickly social issues. The realism of the set (at least relative to the black, boxy affairs seen in the first two instalments of the trilogy) was a nice, comfortable change and suited the more relaxed mood of the play.

But not all was perfection. One of the first things that was incongruous was the opening scene with Ellen moaning about Sam being in love with a man. One would have expected a woman who had spent the most part of her life (as aptly played out by the entire 'Invitation to Treat' triple bill) struggling so valiantly to be accepted by society because of her lesbianism to be pretty ok with her only daughter not having to go through the same societal tribulations - apparently this was not the case. Yes, Ellen's dissatisfaction may have a been a joke, but it was a cheap one, and exactly the kind of playing up to stereotypes that Wong had successfully avoided in her earlier two plays.

>>'it felt like a more complete resolution was due. What's next, I wondered? But the curtain call had already begun.'


Another incongruity was Nat's having to beg her lover's lover for a place to stay. Professor Zee was on the verge of possible discharge from the uni but could still surely at that point have afforded a few dollars for a little room for her student lover. Maybe all the hotels in the country were closed. Again, compared to the tight, believable writing of 'Mergers and Accusations' and 'Wills and Secession' this kind of contrivance, transparent though it was, stuck out like a sore thumb.

And even when Wong had succeeded in shoehorning all her characters into one house, it was unclear why they all needed to be there. A particular scene stuck in my mind as being simply gratuitous: the breakfast scene with Mark, Vic (Pam Oei) and Jess (Serene Chen). I suppose it was meant to lend comic relief to an otherwise sombre situation, but it did not contribute much else to justify its existence. Moreover, it was not the only example of empty writing on display: Mark's character (played with sensitivity and flair by Huzir Sulaiman) is introduced by way of what turns out to be a monologue directed at an unnaturally and unprecedentedly silent Ellen. The situation was so artificial that I wondered if Wong was showing off that, as well as the short, witty exchanges she is rightly famed for, she could handle an extended monologue as well, thank you very much. Except that she couldn't - at least not with such self-consciousness, and what resulted was a string of rather disjointed, forgettable lines.


Don't get me wrong. The first two parts of the trilogy ('Mergers & Accusations', 'Wills & Seccession') - acting, story, themes - affected and moved me deeply, and these positive feelings were maintained through to JOINTLY & SEVERABLY. I was rooting for Ellen Toh.

Practically every cast member was great. From veteran actor Tan Kheng Hua's riveting performance to always hysterical Pam Oei, the casting was ideal. Janice Koh rewarded the audience with her credible, in-the-moment acting, and Serene Chen was convincing in her albeit small role.

The only striking exception was Melody Chen, who was nothing more than her usual fluffy self, with a stage presence that said "look at how fabulous I am, everyone!" rather than making an attempt to immerse herself in her character and integrate herself into the play.

It would be hard not to compare JOINTLY & SEVERABLY with 'Mergers & Accusations' and 'Wills & Secession' - here, I'll be highlighting just one point: whereas the first two parts of the trilogy tackled their main themes head-on, JOINTLY & SEVERABLY merely gingerly touched upon the controversial issues of coming out and finding one's place as a gay person in a still conservative Asian society, with the unfortunate result that these issues were made light of in both character development and plot. Perhaps, the play tried to do too much at once. Still, JOINTLY & SEVERABLY provided a good snapshot, albeit a tad shallow, of some very real concerns in the gay community and the people who love them and live with them, and must be applauded for that.

When the lights went off in the final scene, the audience began their tentative applause - tentative because we really weren't sure that was the ending. Ellen and Sam had dashed off to Bangkok to see Sam's possibly dying fiancé, and Ellen and Zee had professed their mutual love and need for each other but had recognised that Nat was now part of the equation - but it felt like a more complete resolution was due. What's next, I wondered? But the curtain call had already begun.