Today, for the first time in a long time, I watched something with someone I hadn’t watched anything with before. The “something” was 贾宝玉 aka Awakening, a stage re-framing of 红楼梦 in which 贾宝玉 returns to re-live his travails in a modern-day 贾 household. It was entertaining and innovative in parts (especially the portions re-telling the key plot points in 红楼梦, which was useful for folks who haven’t read the Chinese classic e.g. me), but ultimately I found that it was uneven, with melodrama competing with near-evangelising of Buddhist concepts such as the cycle of secular suffering.
Still, I was moved by the sort-of twist near the end, when 贾宝玉 finds that his bride is 林黛玉 in this reality (in the original story, 林黛玉 was 贾宝玉’s true love, but, believing that 贾宝玉 and 薛宝钗 were the perfect match instead, 贾宝玉’s family tricks him into marrying her by switching brides, meaning the bride he eventually wed was 薛宝钗), which was well-resolved. (It was in fact so good that I would not be surprised that the play crystallised with this gem at its core.)
One line in particular in the play stayed with me: “We come into this world alone and we leave this world alone.” (That’s paraphrased/translated from Chinese.) To live with a real appreciation of this is to live in a non-secular world. Sometimes I find myself veering into this territory, not caring to care, though more from a laziness of the heart than from an understanding that caring is suffering, and a while ago I tried to put this uncaring into words, and I realised that I do not want to be dependent on one person for an overly significant part of my happiness.
The other thing that stuck with me is a song from the play – you can view the music video here. (I wonder what the song would be like sung by someone with greater range than 何韵诗.)
Last Friday, I watched 《华丽上班族之生活与生存》, a Chinese play about machinations and ideals in the corporate world, at the Esplanade Theatre. On the whole, including two stoppages for technical difficulties for which the stage manager was sincerely apologetic and in repentance of which announced that the horrifically expensive drinks at the bar would be on the house (cue cheers and long lines), it was entertaining, with some laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Sylvia Chang‘s character was introduced to the company’s new secretary, Qiu Ju, who had the same name as Gong Li‘s litigous peasant in the Golden Lion-winning The Story of Qiu Ju, prompting Chang to quip: “Here to fight a lawsuit?” (It’s probably funnier in Chinese.)
On discussing the play with the pal I watched it with, I realised that she seemed to have appreciated it much more than I did. While she talked about how the play’s theme song (an oldie goodie by Angus Tung called 其实你不懂我的心, literally translated as “Actually You Don’t Know My Heart”) suited its main characters’ amorphous and unknowable – even to themselves – motivations, I talked about the actors’ over-acting and the occasionally clumsy dialogue. I was a little uneasy that our sense of what made for a good play differed so much, but as we continued to earnestly make our points, I came to realise that this was opening my eyes to the merits of the play, which I had been entertained but not moved by.
Participating in frank discussions like that – about a concert performance, a movie, an idea at work, a way to cook a dish – can serve to get us to appreciate a different aesthetic. And really, that’s quite a good deal eh, appreciating more in life?
P/S. By the way, the play was, I felt, misleadingly publicised in English as Design for Living, which is also the name of a Noel Coward play.
So last Thursday evening, I went to watch “The campaign to confer the Public Service Star on JBJ” with some colleagues. Some things I think I think:
- It was a really witty two-act play. In the first act, David Lee, President of the Association of Students for Self-expression (ASS, which of course was the hook for several pun-ny jokes) started a campaign to confer the Public Service Star on JBJ. As it turned out, it did not matter that he was campaigning for a JBJ who had nothing to do with opposition parties (his JBJ was being lauded for contributing to the protection of flora and fauna). No one would touch his campaign, not even his JBJ. There was this hilarious scene in which he called his JBJ’s organisation and tried to convince the paranoid female receptionist that he was sincere about his campaign, not trying to make trouble for her boss. In what came as a surprise to me, David died at the end of the first act.
- In the second act, a high-flying civil servant tried to manage the news item that was David’s death – that is, the death of a student activist who was ostensibly campaigning to confer a top public service award on someone with the same initials as an opposition party leader. The act unraveled as a spot-on caricature of the civil service – a discussion between the civil servant and a police inspector, who was investigating the case and expecting a memo about what conclusion to write in his report, was laugh-out-loud funny and laser-precise. More than that, the act was a well-sketched portrait of an accomplished Singaporean civil servant with a diamond-hard exterior, and her sacrifices.
- The structure of the play was interesting. In the first act, Rodney Oliveiro played David Lee’s role, while Pam Oei inimitably played a kaleidoscope of characters, from David Lee’s feisty, always-ready-with-a-witticism sidekick to the many receptionists David called during his campaign. In the second act, Pam Oei played the steely high-flier Clara Tang, while Rodney Oliveiro was the one who flitted back and forth among roles as Clara’s proud-of-his-humble-beginnings immediate boss, the new-to-the-new-civil-service rookie police inspector, Clara’s cynical news columnist boyfriend, her almost Kumar-ish gay PR guru and a shadowy behind-the-scenes higher-up. Both actors were excellent and accomplished.
- I have not done the play justice with my half-baked review, not by any means, so do go watch it if you’re interested. There are still shows at 3pm and 8pm today and tomorrow.
- It was a nice touch that the real JBJ was among the audience. He was introduced after the play to generous applause. I don’t know whether he was invited or just happened to turn up.
Also saw two university classmates that evening, one I knew quite well and spoke to, one whose name I forgot and therefore did not speak to. (Of course, I remember her name now – both her actual name and what she prefers to be called.)