Where men and women struggle to empathize with each-other, here comes an actor who holds your attention and keeps you entertained for more than two hours and all the while playing the character of a typical Chinese Peranakan woman from the post-world-war era.
Emily of Emerald Hill, by Wild Rice Productions (Singapore) is a one-woman play, enacted by a man, about a Nonya matriarch whose difficult childhood influences her need to ensure she keeps control over everything that matters in her adult life. She goes all out to be an extremely loving mother and a devoted wife. Ironically the same dedication distances her eldest son and her husband from her. All she ever wanted was to love and receive love, and she perfected her role to a point where she forgot to look beyond it.
The play goes back and forth in time, Emily takes us through her life as a child, as a new young bride, as a cunning sister-in-law, as a busy mother of three, as a flattering daughter-in-law, as a newborn socialite, as a fine cook making pineapple tarts, as an ambitious mother of a grown-up son, as a distraught wife of a cheating husband, as a woman with a wicked sense of humour and above all a lonely one. When the audience least expected, Emily started to interact with them, independently zeroing in on people in the front rows to become a part of her story, which added roars of laughter and applause.
Now in case you have forgotten, yes, all of the above was played to perfection by a man, Ivan Heng. No fake falsetto here to imitate a woman, just the emotions and beautiful embodiment of female qualities. Slightly uncouth at times but it added a touch of wild-child element beneath the forced sophistication of Emily.
The only companions Emily had on stage were the lights, visual projections and a constantly evolving set that provided the perfect backdrop for each of her narration. A one (wo)man show supported by a team of very talented backstage artists.
At the end of the play, the applause lasted for more than 10 minutes, echoing the respect each one of us felt for Ivan Heng. It must take a genius to deliver such a live performance and make it look effortless.
A must-watch if you ever get the chance.
PS: In the end, always remember, when a Bengali friend asks you to join for a drama and says he has heard lots of good things about it, one should never turn down the offer. :-)