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18 Oct 2001

review of abuse suxx!!!

Homosexuality, molest, religion, electro-shock therapy, abuse - these are the controversial themes of an experimental performance by The Necessary Stage, Singapore. David Chew reviews this unique play that had even incorporated a question and answer session.

"Abuse is an insidious thing. It does not come to us like daylight. Its deadliness is in its surreptitious nature - to creep up and posses us completely." - Alvin Tan, ArtisticDirector & conceptualiser of Abuse Suxx!!!

Anyone expecting bondage and S & M scenes, whip and Kumar included, from Abuse Suxx probably got a rude shock on watching the 'rated R(A) for objectionable themes' play. Yes, it was filled with themes of sex, violence and abuse. In fact it even had its two male leads kissing on stage, but no, there were none of the much hyped about (or hoped) 'abuse scenes'.

No. Abuse Suxx went on a deeper level than that. Not unlike the previous experimental performances The Necessary Stage (TNS) has produced, Abuse Suxx was conceptualised with no script in mind, with the creators (Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma) drawing on input from the actors themselves.

And yes, there were the bits of fun and entertainment for entertainment's sake, with Destiny's Child's Survivor and Para Para Sakura making an appearance. But no, it wasn't just fluff and fun. More importantly, Abuse Suxx offered the audience more than a night of entertainment. On more than one occasion in the play was the audience forced to think about its response or stand towards certain issues.

To an audience uncomfortable about issues like molest and homosexuality, having paid to watch a play which has its actors seemingly reveal their 'too close for comfort' tales certainly seemed well, strange, if not downright outrageous. Kumar revealed, in a candid, stepping out of his character moment, that he was molested as a child, or Caleb Goh's confession of a primary school crush he had a very cute Indonesian boy in his class one could quite literally feel half the audience squirming in their seats. Of course we wouldn't be none the wiser if that was Caleb himself speaking, or Caleb in the play speaking. This fact versus fiction dilemma merely added to the audience's discomfort.

Then of course, there is the above-mentioned kissing scene involving Caleb and Tze Chien. Passionate and realistic nonetheless, that scene caused unmistakable murmuring rippling throughout the Jubilee Hall.
By now you would think so much has happened nothing could shock the already shocked audience. But no Tze Chien's character then decides he wants to be straight. And from this point on he and the rest of the cast don camouflage fatigues. The purpose? To imply society's militaristic pressure on making us conform, to be clad in uniformity? Even the Pastor who was 'counselling' wore a 'fit for combat' outfit. Religion roped in to help society's cruel goal to bend straight all those 'bent ones'? Abuse (of power and of people in this case) Suxx!!!, as they would put it.

The idea of gays being able to turn straight, resorting to means like religion and even electro-shock therapy caused much dissent among the gay crowd in the audience, causing a couple of them to raise it up during Q&A time. One even suggested the army clothing represented the homo-erotic undertones of the army, an institution purely inserted by society, so how dare society force 'us' to conform to its rules.

I must say, through the responses of audience members during Q&A session and after the play, that Abuse Suxx is one powerful play. Perhaps not only because of the forceful and potent portrayal of the characters, but that it gave the audience the power to think for itself, the power to let themselves interpret the play and give it their own meaning. Amidst the uneasiness of the situation, gays had to rethink whether they would ever consider turning straight for appearance sake's under society's pressures, or what exactly did it cost to come out to the world. Straight people had to take a step back and reflect on their attitudes and thinking towards homosexuality. Should they enforce their own behaviour on others?

Of course one could read otherwise, for that is the whole beauty of Abuse Suxx. Almost everyone I knew who caught it said there was at least one part in the play which they identified with and could painfully relate. At the end of the night, each audience member can come out of the performance with a different meaning for himself or herself, and every one of those interpretations would be right.

Certainly, we need more plays like these. Not necessarily gay-oriented ones, but plays which encourage us, as an audience to do more than sit back and enjoy the show. The day when that comes, perhaps we can truly say that every outing to the theatre is an experience.

Singapore

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