An abused daughter-in-law from India. A Japanese housewife. A Prime Minister’s wife. On paper, these characters couldn’t be more different from one another. However, they all share the same wants and desires- to be loved and recognized as equal to men.
Asa Palomera’s Women of Asia explores the subjugation faced by women, deconstructing the myth of the “ideal” Asian wife and mother in the process. At the beginning of the play, images of women from countries such as Thailand, India and Japan are flashed across the screen, celebrating Asian women in all their uniqueness and diversity. Yet the stories we hear after that are far from celebratory.
The play presents 7 sketches told in succession, with inspiration being drawn from real life experiences. Having written and directed the entire show, Palomera proves to be a master of powerful and intricate storytelling. The stories we hear are deeply personal and intimate- one could very well imagine one of the characters being their close friend, sister or mother.
One of the stories that stood out was that of an Indian mother-in-law who describes the abuse she faced as a child. Eventually, she proceeds to mistreat her own daughter-in-law, selling her kidney and one of her eyes in exchange for money. The scene undeniably brings to light the rampant oppression of women in India, where daughters-in-laws are often treated as second-class citizens.
Another poignant tale features a Japanese housewife trapped in a loveless marriage. In a climatic monologue, she recounts how her husband merely viewed her as an object to satisfy his sexual urges. Filled with desperation, she ultimately attempts suicide along with her two young children.
Powerhouse performances by the main cast added further richness and emotional resonance to the play. Despite taking an 8 year hiatus from acting, veteran actresses Koh Chieng Mun is at the top of her game, commanding the audience’s attention confidently and effortlessly in her scenes.
Playing an opera heroine, Koh laments the status of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly as an idealized victim pining for her European lover. Why must be the woman sacrificed herself when she is abandoned? As Koh aptly puts it, an ideal ending would be one where Madame Butterfly drives the sword into her lover’s chest rather than her own. After all, he truly deserves it, doesn’t he?
Special mention must also be given to fresh faces such as Nadia Abdul Rahman, Charis Ng and Benedict Hew. Rahman is especially electrifying in her roles as an Indian daughter-in-law and a Thai prostitute sold into sexual slavery. Possessing a strong stage presence, we look forward to seeing the young actress in future stage productions.
Under Palomera’s sensitive and passionate direction, Women of Asia succeeds in showing how much further we have to go in order to achieve gender equality. By advocating for women who voices have been drowned out in male-dominated societies, the play serves as a symbol of hope and change not only for women in Asia but around the world as well.
Image Credits: GenerAsia