Perhaps, it does take a fresh, young pair of eyes to redefine a subject matter.
Only on their second effort, theatre group Red Pill Productions boasts a repertoire of fresh faces and talents — some of them are part of youth divisions of other theatre groups. And yet, Red Pill has developed some sort of no-holds-barred raw style that is missing in a theatre scene with plenty of sheen. The maturity is unmistakable, the whiff cutting through to where it matters.
The production group have took it up a notch in the realm of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) literature. Not only did they embark on stringing stories from 50 Singapore LGBTs from all walks of life into a testimonial play, they also shook the oft-glamourised gloss that tends to coat such literature, especially in Singapore theatre.
And so, Let’s Get Back Together (get the pun?) was born. No stories of multiple partners or casual sex here — we have the Secret app for that. Tales of heartbreak, love and family are a dime a dozen here, each equally as powerful as the next. Each testimony is prefaced by the person’s name, age and sexuality projected onto the backdrop. This seemed to provide context but as the testimonies became universal and unbounded by gender and sexuality, I did not pay attention to this information after a few minutes.
Due congratulations must be given to director Mark Ng and producer Perry Shen for not sticking to traditional LGBT (or just the muscular, flamboyant, Chinese G) storylines. Transgenderism took a good first quarter of the play and so did tales of Malays. The play makes you sit through uncomfortable but real struggles such as Muslims reconciling between faith and sexuality as well as married transgenders who have to face their straight partners and come clean. Familial acceptance is a big part of the play and concepts such as continuous “coming out” and balancing conservative interests are deeply explored.
The play does not court controversy but it just so happens that the past year has been contentious for LGBT affairs in Singapore. As such, an old debate between religion and LGBT now becomes a landmine of distrust and anger. The play navigates this thoroughly, taking stories of LGBTs rejected by religious leaders they grew up with since they were kids. A particularly powerful scene was Theresa Wee-Yenko’s monologue stringing status updates from members of the We Are Against Pink Dot In Singapore Facebook group. The end result is a chilling affront from the anti-LGBT community that might just want to make liberals join the group just to tear them apart.
There was an attempt to weave in a testimony from a straight person who battles between loving her Christian faith and accepting her LGBT friends. It is just the right chunk of prose to connect the straight members in the audience to the play but it was later revealed at the post-show dialogue that she was a member of the Faith Community Baptist Church, where infamous pastor Lawrence Khong preaches in. Imagine how powerful this testimony would have been had this been revealed during the play.
Critiquing young actors is not my thing — I’ve wisened up to the fact that it is better for the theatre community to bring up a young starlet rather than to tear him or her down. In this respect. Matthew Fam and Theresa Wee-Yenko stand out for authentic portrayals. While Matthew’s exaggerated ways may lend him more glitter to campier roles, him playing gay Beng Tristan and an old pastor are solid enough to reveal his multi-facetedness. Theresa, however, is a gem and could be the next actress to look out for. Her demeanour is easy and effortless, which makes plays like this more of an authentic conversation rather than a put-on show. Rosemary McGowan did much justice to Tania de Rozario’s Facebook note on LGBT oppression, encapsulating her anger and the situation’s absurdity into a war cry befitting of applause.
After all the doors were opened (and many doors were kicked and stomped on by Red Pill), it seemed impossible to reach a conclusion. And it did turn out so. Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm” was an affirming end to the play but many issues still remained unanswered. Which is why it was uncomfortable when at the end, mirrors were shone back at us — so now, we have to find the answer within ourselves? For the most part, it would have been great if the “small change is still good change” argument was abandoned in favour of a bolder direction, a stronger statement. Maybe it was time to shake the government? Maybe the media needs to wisen up? If we can find the answers ourselves, why did we need to come down and watch the play? A great attempt to make a mark was sorely missed out here.
But for what it was worth, Let’s Get Back Together will go down in history. Not because of the LGBT discourse or the controversy surrounding the topic or even the stories; it was because the play addressed the differences within the LGBT community itself. For a society so focused on getting on par with the rest, the cracks within the community were deep and unsightly — the general dismissive tone of Pink Dot in a monologue brilliantly highlighted this. So, maybe what the community needs is to fix its own house first before looking out. Stop fending for self, start fending for each other.
When LGBTs recognise the letters beyond their own (and the faces, races and religions), maybe this play will cease to exist and all stories will be one and the same. Until then, much work needs to be done. And Red Pill just broke down the barriers for that to take place.
Follow Red Pill Productions on Facebook here. All photos courtesy of Red Pill Productions.