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2 Aug 2004

So many gay issues, so little time

The Necessary Stage's production of Mardi Gras tries to cover too much in too short a time. The result is a hodgepodge of gay issues that don't penetrate us deeply enough. And we all like to be penetrated deeply, don't we?

Producer: The Necessary Stage

Time: 4 to 9 and Aug 11 to 14, 2004

Venue: Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel

It is no small challenge to cram virtually all the problems that Singaporean gays faced in recent times into one-and-a-half hours of stage entertainment.

From top (left to right), Clem (Rodolfo C. Vera) and Alex (Jay Espano), Faith (Hossan Leong) and Clem, Alex and Ben, Su Lin (Koh Chieng Mun) and her girlfriend (Irene Ang).
But that is exactly what The Necessary Stage tried to do with its play Mardi Gras last week.

A rerun of last year's hit play (which I didn't see), the story revolves around a group of friends trying to organise Singapore's first gay parade.

While the group faces legal hurdles, each of its eight characters must also confront his/her own demons:

Ben (Zahim Albakri) relationship with Alex (Jay Espano) is on the rocks. Ben's friend, Su Lin (Koh Chieng Mun), struggles to come out at her workplace. And Ben's best friend, Clem (Rodolfo C. Vera), wants to leave Singapore for a Western country where there is greater acceptance of homosexuality. And so on.

Mardi Gras certainly has its share of bitchy butches and campy queens - not to mention sappy songs from the 70s and 80s.

But it is also chock-full of issues. You name the issue, the play has it:

The closet that so many of us lock ourselves in because of our families, jobs and social standing? Check!

The political/legal powers-that-be which claim to be making room for homosexuals, but remains adamant about not granting us equal rights? Check!

The narcissism and hedonism that pervade the gay culture and their detrimental effect on our attempts to build long-term relationships? Check!

The apparent divide between gays and lesbians, when we should all be in the same camp? Check!

And most controversially of all, the attraction that some of us have for our same-sex siblings. (Granted, incestuous attractions are not confined to homosexuals.) Check!

The list goes on. Yet each of these issues don't penetrate our hearts and souls very deeply. And we all like to be penetrated deeply, don't we?

Playwright Haresh Sharma and director Alvin Tan must be commended for wanting to address so much. Themes pop out from every corner, and characters' predicaments take you by surprise.

But just when you are getting closer to understanding the character or the issue, the play shifts your attention elsewhere, leaving you with little to chew on.

The production is like a buffet spread: There's something of everything, but you don't remember any dish in particular after you've left the restaurant.

Mardi Gras is a far cry from Eleanor Wong's landmark plays Mergers & Accusations and Wills & Secession (which will be staged in Mandarin this weekend): Each gay play focus on specific issues in-depth - be it gays and social acceptance, or gays and religion.

Art is about making specific choices, among other things. But it seems as if Mardi Gras is afraid to make very specific choices. Instead, it wants to be all things to all queers.

While it does at times capture the ethos of politically active gay men and women in Singapore - I know this because I was once part of a local gay rights group - Mardi Gras is a hodgepodge of characters and issues which we are not given enough time to really understand.

Some of the performances are outstanding, though. Koh Chieng Mun - one of the few straight actors in the play - rocks as the headstrong lesbian.

Hossan Leong and Natalie Hennedige are hilarious as a queeny make-up artist and a whiny fag hag respectively. Jay Espano also deserves praise for fleshing out his thankless role as Ben's slutty boyfriend.

All in all, Mardi Gras is not a potent piece of theatre. But it does try to reflect the real situation faced by gay Singaporeans - and that's something. That's really, really something.

Ticketing details: Mardi Gras has finished its run. Its sequel Top Or Bottom will be staged at the Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel from August 4 to 9, and from August 11 to 14 at 8pm. There are also 3pm matinees on August 7 and 8, and August 14.

Top Or Bottom is rated RA(18) (for audiences 18 and above only). Tickets at $26, $36 and $46 are available at Sistic (tel: 6348-5555 or www.sistic.com.sg). Concessions available for students, NSF and senior citizens.

Mardi Gras and Top Or Bottom are part of the first ever Nation.04 Arts programme which includes several other plays and art exhibitions. Get a discount off tickets by using the password "Rainbow Fridae" at SISTIC. For more information, call Rainbow at 6440-8115 or visit www.necessary.org.


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