images by J
This play by Dramabox is ending its run at the Esplanade Theatre Studio with the last show pm 3rd Sept, 8pm. If you have no plans this evening, take your mom/dad/kid out to this play.
J and I had watched Dramabox's A Stranger at Home earlier this year at the Arts Festival, and even earlier, their, er, Shithole. The former suffered from an over-worked script, but the latter had enough wit, inspired delivery and puppetry to cheer me up about the future of Chinese-language theatre in Singapore.
Trash supposedly follows from Shithole - but there are no direct links, except maybe the idea that the idealism of heroes is not enough. In the foreword to Trash, Director and playwright Li Xie (this must be her stagename! The Chinese translates literally as "Evil Lee"...haha) wrote:
From Meyerhold and Chaplin to these idealists, from art to the society, there exists a common yearning: live and let live. It is this simple.In the play's concluding scene, "Superman" (which puns, with a slight variation in intonation, with "Useless People") finally gives up his 1000-year effort to convince humanity that there can be a 人人囯, a socialist utopia where equality and justice prevails. But his giving up is re-framed as "live and let live" instead. He gives up a personal pursuit to let humanity decide which way it wants to go - and in so doing, reclaims his own human-ness.
The narrative of Trash is simple, told through archetypes, but nonetheless superbly acted by the entire cast. The weakness of the script is in its half-veiled references to the social and national engineering of this island-state - and the ease with which meritocracy can be misapplied and paradoxically act as a cover for discrimination. This is a weakness only because it can and has become a familiar and predictable rant. Of course, this at times is also the script's strength. Because this is also the premise for the sort of Chaplinesque comedy and commentary - a disarming comedy that entertains and amuses, but can also rebuke, awaken and move.
I like the way Chinese theatre in Singapore has developed. With Dramabox, Theatre Practice and The Finger Players (these groups are bilingual), I see a theatre that is engages and deliberates, and thus so conscientiously in communication and collaboration with its audience - without condescension - a people's theatre.
afternote Charles Isherwood writes "The Culture Project and Plays that Make a Difference" in NYT about the social and political potency (or rather, lack there of) of theatre, but argues that theatre must nonetheless continue to engage and not degenerate in today's "pervasive [cultural] vacuousness". Because even if art can never realistically effect political change or resolve human conflict or suffering on the scale of war/starvation/disaster, Isherwood writes "Art can inculcate empathy, and empathy directed not at a generalized humanity but a specific person or persons keeps healthy and intact our alertness to immediate evils, not general ones. It reminds us that history doesn’t happen in newspapers but to people."