Saturday, December 20, 2008

Episode 89: Do Not Disturb - Late Checkout, Please

I'm afraid Do Not Disturb - Late Checkout, Please turned out to be somewhat disappointing. I'm going to review the four short plays that made up the double doublebills in the order that I saw them, Duet and Real Actors in the afternoon, Brunch and Teacher's Day in the evening:

Duet employed the technique of simultaneous dialogue, which was interesting, but I felt it was carried too far here, to the point where the audience was practically being forced to ignore one character's version of the story, in order not to lose track of the other character's speech. As words on a page, all the sequences of simultaneous dialogue would have worked wonderfully as a literary device. In performance, it felt messy, especially since Serene Chen and Karen Lim had too many moments when their delivery, if not exactly out-of-sync, was mismatched by just half a second, which given that this was the opening scene when they were loudly singing a duet, sounded a note that was a tad too sour. I understand that within half an hour, there isn't as much room to give conflict a neat and tidy resolution, but honestly, the way they reconciled at the end was too pat. It completely failed to address the underlying conflicts in their relationship, although since the final song they sang was 'Tale As Old As Time' from Walt Disney's Beauty And The Beast, perhaps the too-convenient nature of the ending was only to be expected and completely in keeping with the spirit of their relationship, i.e. schmaltzy.

Real Actors was by far the best of the four short plays. For starters, Joanna Dong and Timothy Nga were the only pair who actually had anything worth showing off when they stripped. Lest you think I'm just a skin-deep reviewer though, allow me to note that the acting in this play felt the most natural. Joanna had great comedic timing, and although the relationship being played out here was just as typical as in the previous play, it was handled with a more light-hearted touch and the actors had better chemistry. The fourth wall was subtly nodded at when Joanna made a joke about hoping there were no cameras in the room, which naturally calls to mind the usual reminders about no recording or taking pictures of performances. The only issue I have was with the ending, which had Timothy's wife calling, him not picking up, and Joanna asking why he didn't. You cannot possibly get more clichéd than that, even if you hunt through a Mediacorp Channel 8 drama!

The plot of Brunch is linked with one of the episodes of the original Do Not Disturb TV series, telling the story of what goes on between the other halves of an adulterous pair. Conceptually, interesting. I even liked how the plot unfolded in reverse chronology, which called to mind Pinter's Betrayal. The problem I had with this piece was the lack of chemistry between Dan Jenkins and Janice Koh. Janice's anguish in the final scene, had it not been preceded by a rather stilted argument with Dan, would have been very powerful. As it was, it seemed too calculated and mechanically predictable. This play was okay, but given its premise, it could have been much better. More a case of there being insufficient time to develop its full potential rather than anything fundamentally wrong with it.

Unsurprisingly, Kaylene Tan's Teacher's Day was the most experimental of the four short plays, playing with coloured lights to convey the passage of time as well as interior monologues. K. Rajagopal and Hadri also lack chemistry as a couple, but at least the former's breakdown at the end was more convincing than Janice's. The latter's vindictive condemnation of his teacher, however, was not. It was nice to see Hadri not in drag, for once, and his acting was solid, but I just couldn't buy the character's motivation. Again, possibly an issue of brevity than anything wrong with the actors themselves. Overall though, I felt this piece didn't have anything new to say about the issues it was purporting to confront, i.e. repressed homosexual tendencies and sexual exploitation. Even moments like when Hadri gets dressed in what is obviously a Raffles uniform, complete with the distinctive tie, come to seem somewhat gratuitous, placed there solely for their shock factor.

The greatest highlight of the entire performance, both times, was Victor Tang's music. Accompanying himself on the guitar, his songs were listenable without becoming tiresome. As a whole though, I think Do Not Disturb - Late Checkout, Please was a decidedly uneven directorial debut. The problem, in my humble opinion, lies with the fact that Do Not Disturb began as a TV series first. It's as if the scriptwriters were writing for television rather than the stage, which the spare setting of a single bed didn't help. The three plays that I didn't like could have been turned into perfectly serviceable episodes of the TV series, with the magical tools of TV production. You know, creative camera angles, zoomed shots, that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, the scripts couldn't really stand up to the unblinkered glare of the stage.

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