And so it begins. Man Singapore Theatre Festival 2011 officially kicks off at Drama Centre with Chong Tze Chien’s Charged and Huzir Sulaiman’s The Weight Of Silk On Skin — two plays which could not have been more different.
While the former, played at the black box upstairs, dealt with racial politics in the military – explosive, gritty, confrontational – the affair downstairs at the theatre was, erm, there’s no other way of putting this, very bourgeois.
Stripped naked, this W!ld Rice production in collaboration with Checkpoint Theatre and directed by Claire Wong is a monologue about an upper-middle class bloke seemingly going through a mid-life crisis, boasting of his exploits, yakking endlessly about his uber-privileged life and hankering for the One True Love –who happens to be The Ex.
Yawn, right? Not quite.
Like the crisp, sharp suits of its protagonist John (played by Ivan Heng), Huzir has exquisitely stitched together a piece that seduced enough to make me feel like a million dollars as I was walking out.
Until, of course, someone pointed out I was wearing a wrinkled shirt and jeans during the gala evening where the dress code was “Black Tie”. But I digress.
I still hadn’t gotten over the delightful Sondheim experience of the previous week (wonder what went wrong with Into The Woods’ ticket sales? Did people think it was a kid’s musical?) and here I was getting drunk on yet another delicious piece of writing.
Huzir is in a class of his own. His use of language effusive yet meticulous; rough yet refined; old school romantic yet crisp, clinical and modern; witty and sardonic in the most subtle of ways but at the same time almost naively heartfelt. He has managed, in the piece, to make the ridiculously detailed description of crafting a friggin’ leather shoe sound so poetic and philosophical. (That particular section reminded me of poet Robert Pinsky’s Shirt.)
It’s like chewing on something written by a Dante-Ginsberg hybrid. If said hybrid happened to be a worldly white collar worker, in this case.
But The Weight Of Silk On Skin isn’t simply about one man. I’d mentioned somewhere else that it sees Heng transition from Emily Of Emerald Hill to, ahem, Emilio of Bukit Timah. This piece could very well have been a sequel of sorts – John’s life as a “what if” scenario of Emily’s Richard had he not killed himself. The claustrophobic world of Emily opening up to the cosmopolitan, jet-setting life of John.
And like how Emily functions not just as a portrait of a person but of the `50s onwards, The Weight of Silk On Skin also seems to have some sort of commentary on the changing times – in this case, the `80s to the present. (He actually namechecks U2′s The Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire. Woot.)
As for the actual staging of the piece, I must say it’s refreshing to see the Drama Centre Theatre so bare: an actor, a chair, a bunch of clothes and Lim Woan Wen’s lighting – that was pretty much it.
But that’s all you need when you’ve got Heng’s presence lording it over the stark space. Like everyone else, my first glimpse of the piece was that powerful publicity shot of Heng sitting down with a glass of whisky with that cocky-but-haunted look on his face.
Heng plays him exactly like that. Barring the odd theatrical flourish of a gesture or two (which was occasionally distracting), Heng creates this portrait of a smug and self-assured dude who – horror of horrors – actually has a sensitive side.
If I remember correctly, Huzir had mentioned somewhere about the dearth of local plays that tackle single, straight men and their issues. For all its bourgeois-ness (is that even a word?), this proves to be a solid opening salvo.
Fist bump, bro.