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To Whom It May Concern

September 11, 2011

Event: “To Whom It May Concern by The Finger Players
Series/Festival: Esplanade’s “The Studios” series
Playwright/Director: Chong Tze Chien
Cast: Karen Tan
Run: 1st Sept – 4th Sept 2011

I feel that monologues aren’t the easiest plays to write or act in, and they don’t come by that often on our stages, maybe because it is quite taxing on the actor, and if not done well, could prove boring and undramatic. The relationship between the actor and the script is very tight. It is an exchange, as well, with the audience, who are fully focused on that one character. However, we did see a number of monologues this year, the last good one being the recent Weight of Silk on Skin.

Citing a departure from the conventional monologue, Tze Chien’s first monologue isn’t focused on the narrative exposition of a single character’s inner most thoughts and nature to an audience (well, at least not in the conventional way), but rather, the protagonist was one character who was three. In his own words, he wanted something that would prompt us not to take the narrative at face value, by creating an unreliable narrator. What is the truth and what is not? When is Lily saying the truth, when she’s not?  I believe the main contention here was whether Beck (Rebecca) was real or not. Judith, was from the start, a scammer, so it may not be as crucial if she were real or not, but she would be in a sense “real” if Beck was real. And if Beck were real, then Lily will be speaking the truth. So that was what we were left to discern on our own along the way.
I guess the turning point came when Lily could no longer keep up with the masquerade and all her characters melded together. Maybe she started out with good intentions, but it got out of hand. Was she schizophrenic/mental? Yes and no. She seemed fully aware at the end of what she had been doing.

As it is, what was written is as crucial as to how good the actor/actress brings it across. Karen Tan must be one of the most sought after (and hardest working, as Jeremy puts it), stage actresses in Singapore because wow! I’ve been seeing Karen Tan a lot these days. And I believe it’s because she is one of our more versatile actresses on stage, whether as a comedian or in a serious role. She has not failed to play each character with all her best, and I see she puts in a lot of hard work into it. And switching between the characters for this play required much stamina and tenacity, which she did magnificently.

About the sets, the whitewashed look of chairs, stage and dressing were impressive enough when I entered the venue. A clever use of space, props and cues to enact the play. The chairs were also the premise/starting point for the playwright, as he thought of a likely ignored/forgotten figure, the one who arranges chairs before an event. How much do we really know about this person? Or people like that? And the white would represent a contrast of the truth. The sets designer was incidentally Tze Chien.

For one thing, I believe Tze Chien’s strength is where he is able to direct his plays to holistically bring the whole theatre experience together. And as playwright and director, I believe the play has been well-executed, thanks also to Karen Tan. Interestingly, as pointed out during the post-show dialogue, the script was actually ambiguous in the direction; a whole new play would have taken place if they had chosen for Lily to be speaking the truth from the beginning.

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