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Murder in San Jose 《圣荷西谋杀案》

April 5, 2011
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Event: Murder in San Jose 《圣荷西谋杀案》 by Chong Mui-ngam (庄梅岩)
Venue: Esplanade Theatre (滨海艺术中心剧院)
Run: 1 & 2 April 2011

A simply-titled murder story, but a more than mystery sequence of events. Just reading the word “murder” piqued my interest even as I read that it has been performed to rave reviews in Hong Kong. Murder in San Jose was specially commissioned for the 2009-2011 Hong Kong Arts Festivals, and counting this run in Singapore, it has been staged more than 30 times. Furthermore, the script had won “Best Script Award” at the Hong Kong Drama Awards. 

Initially, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to follow the show that well since it was in Cantonese, even though it has English and Chinese surtitles. But it turned out manageable. 

This isn’t a whodunnit mystery. Rather, it has been categorised as a psychological thriller, although it didn’t feel that way till the end. As it is, it was a sequence of events from what seemed like a marriage-on-rocks drama that led to a more sinister truth. Someone was murdered in the ending, but it wasn’t as simple as that.

In an interesting prelude, characters went about their daily routines before the official curtains up while the audience were still entering (well, the curtains were already up). It was apparent that the man was just doing everything on his own, even having dinner. So we were prepped for the scenes to follow even as that scene faded out with the start of Act 1 proper.

Set in an isolated suburb in San Jose, Ling (Alice Lau/刘雅丽) had been staying there with her husband, Tang (Tang Wai-kit/邓伟杰) for some years now and expecting their first child. Her childhood friend, Sammi (Kearen Pang/彭秀慧) comes for a visit. Things ain’t so pretty as Sammi observes, with Ling being her controlling self full of rules, and Tang, the frustrated husband who’s dominated by Ling even as he tries to be an online entrepreneur. Sammi is unwittingly embroiled in the struggle between the couple which soon spirals into a showdown as a result of Ling’s sabotage on a possible business deal for Tang. Then it comes out. The murder.
Tang is not really Tang, but a bartender Ling met. They tricked the real Tang into moving to this secluded spot and conspired to kill him, and the bartender took the identity of Tang. The fake “Tang” had to however not try to leave the country or he might be exposed. However, “Tang” can’t stand Ling anymore. He asks Sammi to kill Ling as it’ll either be her or Ling. If Ling dies, Sammi can take her place. Sammi is petrified, should she choose between her own survival or live as someone else? The scene blacks out as the pregnant Ling sits on a chair, with Sammi raising a baseball bat. So who died?

At the end, Sammi is not seen again, and Ling and “Tang” seem to return to their couple life.

Hope I managed to describe the twist effectively. When the truth came to light, it made me realise how some of the things said earlier (even the humour) took on a double meaning now. The script was well-written and the actors played their parts well. Even though there was no intermission, the plot was fully engaging, and the 2 hours didn’t feel long at all. It kept us moving along with the story perpetually, “driving” us through it all. I think this was one of the better plays I’ve watched so far this year.

The only question I had was how come it was Ling and “Tang” (still don’t know his real name) who remained in the end? What happened to Sammi? If I assume she’s dead, how did she die? She was the one holding the bat. Did “Tang” change his mind? Did Sammi back out? Was she really dead? Then how come the prelude had a figure that might be her (or not?).
Maybe as my friend said, it was better Sammi died. I think she would be too soft-hearted to live with killing the pregnant Ling.

Looks like I might need to review the script to see if I can shed any light on this, which fortunately, has been published (in Chinese & English) and was being sold at the venue. Maybe it’ll serve as good reference in future. 🙂

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