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DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)

April 15, 2011

Event: DNR
Playwright/Director: Robin Loon
Run: 7-9 April 2011
Actors: Gerald Chew, Karen Tan, Serene Chen

How the story goes: Wen Jiansheng (Gerald Chew) has been faithfully standing by his wife, Li Chenjie (Karen Tan), who has been in a coma for nearly ten years. Enter Ye Ling (Serene Chen), a healthcare professional, newly hired to provide around-the-clock care of Chenjie. Intelligent and strong-willed, Ye Ling slowly makes Jiansheng rethink life, love and the rest of it all.  Just as Jiansheng makes a decision to move on, Chenjie wakes up and things return to before, or does it?

Call me dull, but I really don’t know why this was called DNR (can someone enlighten me?). I only know that it means having a living will such that a natural death is allowed, with the omission of action to resuscitate. Well, I don’t see any specific reference to this in the play, except maybe to the comatose Chenjie, who just lies there. But no mention of DNR was given (unless I missed it). Was that why he keeps her this way? I thought it was out of love. Or does it have another meaning? Like with reference to the ending?

When I first read the synopsis/brief on the brochure, I was expecting it to be melodramatic like the 70s Taiwanese dramas, which was what inspired the playwright. However, it didn’t feel really melodramatic, and how would I say…rather “modern” than dramatic nostalgia? Maybe the writer’s intent was with reference to the “drama” of 2 lovers meeting in frustrated circumstances, but can’t get together because of those circumstances, and the longsuffering male protagonist (Jiansheng) takes up his responsibility in the end (with the help of Ye Ling’s “sacrifice” to let go), and things return to what was considered morally right, even though Chenjie has lost her memory. But then again, in an interview with Robin Loon, he said,

I want it to evoke sentiment, but not sentimentality”

which I guess was close to what was effected. Subtlety.
Interesting that I felt Ye Ling and Chenjie seem to share similarities in their character.

As a “theatre unplugged”, with almost no props, just actors and live piano music, the play was accompanied by a recurring theme of, I think, a tune from some Chinese melodrama, played during transitions. And I think that made us focus on what was at hand, the raw interaction between characters. I guess the recurring theme should remind us of the repetitive and cyclical nature of Taiwanese melodrama. A constant reference was also made to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. The characters were almost in similar circumstances, but not quite.
I must commend Karen Tan for her excellent performance as the comatose Chenjie. Her spasms during her “sleep” and her portrayal of someone who just woke up from a long coma was totally convincing to me (not that I know anything about it); the physical weakness and mental handling of that, plus her facial “adjustments” for the role, must have taken much energy and effort to sustain and practise. I find her character, Chenjie, rather witty and humourous, despite the conditions, which made her my favourite character in the show.

I guess one question about the story would be this: what if Chenjie didn’t wake up in that timely manner? What if Jiansheng decided to continue with Ye Ling? Chenjie said she wouldn’t mind if he left her as she couldn’t remember anything about them. What if Ye Ling didn’t make the decision for him? Ok, that’s more than one question.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeremy permalink*
    April 17, 2011 1:20 am

    “Call me dull, but I really don’t know why this was called DNR (can someone enlighten me?).”

    Ah, but then why did you include the words “Do Not Resuscitate” in your title? =)

    To be honest, I also do not know why it was called DNR. I figured the playwright would have at least inserted a clue of some sort in the play, but it seems like none was given, unless we both failed to pick it up.

    But yeah, my best guess would be the same as yours – Do Not Resuscitate.

    “However, it didn’t feel really melodramatic, and how would I say…rather “modern” than dramatic nostalgia?”

    I agree with this statement. I personally couldn’t really see the “melodramaticism” in this play either. If not for the overtly Chinese names given to all 3 characters, I would have thought this to be no different from a contemporary type play, haha!

    • Ilkosa permalink
      April 17, 2011 3:47 pm

      Actually I didn’t know what DNR was until I googled to try to shed light on why it was called DNR and what it stood for. ‘The Studios’ link actually had the word “resuscitate” for this production, but unfortunately, it didn’t shed much light on the relevance since there wasn’t much reference to it in the play.


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