Okay so I did this thing (again) where I went to see a show without knowing anything about it except that my friend wrote a script in English, but it was going to be performed in Hokkien with surtitles.
SHOULD BE OK KAN. SUPPORT YOUR FRIENDS KAN.
It was actually this:
I dunno what all the other words say, I only know Fresh 14.0 hahaha. And I'm too lazy to google translate. So anyway, the first 3 plays were in Mandarin (probably) and only the last (Heng Yeh's) was in Hokkien, and apparently my half-past-six Hokkien is better than my non-existent Mandarin, who knew! (I knew) But anyway, the surtitles were much better written and felt more complete than the ones during A Complete Woman.
Some general notes on the overall experience first. I know this show isn't catered to bananas like me, but... these would probably also help the Chinese theatre-goers, I feel.
(1) The thing with programme booklets (and why we have them, even if it's a one-page A5 flyer) is that it helps the audience understand the background or premise of the play(s), even before the show starts. I suppose there has been copious stuff posted on their facebook page (which I didn't know existed until now that I'm writing this and stealing their pics), but none of it was at the venue, that I saw at least. ETA: I found a QR code on the FB page but it doesn't want to open on my phone. Also, all of that is in Chinese, which brings me to...
(2) There should also have been a little more general translation for the technical type things as well, especially all the really, really long announcements before the show, between the plays, and after the whole event. With the existence of English surtitles - the ushers even tell you where to sit/where the surtitles will be projected - you're basically inviting a multilingual crowd so there's an expectation that other things should be translated as well. Beginning with the usual "we're about to start, turn off your phones, no recording" etc which can be just the usual pictograms on the screen.
Right. So the four plays.
Bathroom was the first play. And this is where context is important because... when it first started, I thought it meant that was where the scene was taking place (obvious, there was a bathtub there). Adding a few lines for as playwright, director, & actors' names (which I think was what they were announcing) would have clarified that a bit.
Anyway, remember: no programme booklet, no foreknowledge of what on earth is happening. A woman struggling with depression is in the bathroom, where she can be free to be herself. She's talking to another woman about the past, bringing up memories that don't quite match up sometimes. I could never figure out who they were to each other. Were they friends? Sisters? Is she talking to herself and this is a split personality of sorts? Was it like the happy side of the person talking to the sad side? Is it her past talking to her present?
It was all very metaphorical, a long search for something amidst multiple internal breakdowns and external crises. What was the significance of the white balls and the one random blue one she was looking for but not really looking for? Was she cutting? Was she committing suicide? I dunno. Nothing was obviously explained in the dialogue itself, and nothing in the scene clued me in.
The second play, I don't eat meat with bones, started off well. Three people and a dog get lost in a cave. They start off optimistic (don't worry! my boyfriend will find us soon!) but when their supplies run out after 3 days, they have to start making difficult decisions. Will the vegetarian let the others eat her dog in exchange for a packet of dried mangoes? Will the young man who's afraid of choking on bones finally eat meat that has bones? And when that too is gone, do they just lie down and die or do they start sacrificing each other for their own survival?
The Dad figure (idk the character's name or the actor's name lol) stood out in showing his slow descent into madness, his obsession with survival to get back to his wife and son at the expense of everyone else. And yet he's still The Dad, taking care of the others and trying to get them to eat. There was a rather amusing discussion of reincarnation (if you will reincarnate as a chicken if you eat chicken, does that mean you need to eat humans to be reborn as a human?!) and holding on to your principles in times of crisis. What would you do if your survival depended on it?
I'm not sure if the playwright/director meant it to be a funny show. I mean, it's an absurd situation and people laugh at dark things, but some of the humour felt a little displaced alongside the horror of the scene. I also felt rather ambivalent about the ending, which didn't quite make sense to me. Honestly, I felt that the play could have ended about half a scene earlier and it would have been much stronger for it.
Ok, I'm not sure what the actual name of this play is. It sounded really lyrical on the screen something about the fog and the heart and the ocean? But Google translates it as The Dark Ocean, I Am Alone (which ????? lol). I guess I'll just call it Ocean??
The theme for Ocean is rather similar to Bathroom: facing the past, dealing with depression. The protagonist is sitting looking out at the sea, where he finds peace. At first, he cannot see the three others, who are very clearly representations of himself from different times in his life. And when he finally sees them, he doesn't recognise who they are, finding fault with how they live their lives. But soon he has to face up to reality, to remember amidst the crippling fog, and learn to let go of the past in order to move forward in life.
The only thing that threw me off a little, was that there was this fog horn going at intervals and I kept thinking that the boat would crash into them and kills them or something. HAHAHA. But the ending felt rather hopeful with him burying his past in the sea! Side note: I do hope that their feet are okay because I could see leftover detritus from the earlier play on the floor... and that looked painful.
This was overall very beautifully done, with amazing choreography. Even though the actors cycled through various characters in presenting the past to the protagonist, it was always very clear what was going on. And the dance at the end! So good!
And finally, the play I was actually there to see: 163288. (Eh, why no fancy pic with all the cast for this one?)
I was impressed with Ocean, but I can definitely say this was my favourite (not cronyism). It was hilarious and also very thought-provoking, exploring friendship and money, and how the latter can make or break the former. Even when both friends are adamant that they will help each other out no matter what since they're practically family.
Two friends are looking for a tree stump which has a spirit that can grant wishes... for a price. But when the price turns out to be a hand, will either of them be willing to give up a hand (or mutilate the other) to get the winning numbers for the lottery? (do you want to give up a hand to the spirit or give up a kidney to the loan shark?)
And so starts a hilarious argument over whether one needs to pay back loans between friends, whose need for money is greater, whether brothers with cancer are burdens, and what they would do with FIFTY BILLION RINGGIT.
There's another run of the show tomorrow (12/3) at 3pm. More info on ZXC Theater Troupe's page!