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DRAMATIC CONTRIVANCES OBSCURE THE PLAY’S HEART AND SOUL

Print Version

BANGKOK
By Lilla Csorgo
Directed by Kerina Deas
Tenacity Productions

at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 16 Apr 2013 to 27 Apr 2013

Reviewed by John Smythe, 17 Apr 2013


Canadian playwright (now living in Wellington) Lilla Csorgo uses the conceit of a woman's obsessive and somewhat addictive behaviour as the means to expound the story she wishes to tell. On the one hand it is a rather clumsy contrivance; on the other, it is a way of anchoring what is played out from memory to a present time and place.  

The key characters' subjective memories of what happened – or how things happened – differ, however, and almost everything they reveal to each other about themselves and others turns out to be something other than the objective truth, which remains elusive.

The ‘home' setting is poolside at a flash Bangkok hotel, the type frequented by international conference attendees. In her programme note, Csorgo describes the hotel inhabitants she observed, while there for work, as “a disparate bunch – all successful in their fields but from a range of countries, economic circumstances and cultural heritages. They struck me as rootless, living itinerant lives, no longer knowing where to call home. When that happens, people will grasp on to what's the most accessible. And that might be the person sitting in the lounge chair next to them. It makes for some unlikely combinations.”

Three of the four characters we meet, however, are English, with the fourth being Thai. The “unlikely combination” is elegant blonde Faith (Tara O'Brien), a banking industry change manager (or is she?), and “short, fat” Tom (Leroy Cross), a gem trader (or is he?).

For some unaccountable reason, beyond serving the needs of the playwright, Faith – now somewhat addicted to Cutty Sark Scotch whisky – has summoned Tom back for a fourth year in order to insist he recounts her story of the previous three. It seems she was happy when she still had – yes – faith in one Mr Heng's foretelling that she would meet three men and the third would be “the one”.

The first, Tom, he described as “short, fat and evil” – or that's what Faith says he said. The second, Cliff (Chris Tse) – her married-with-a-family Thai rock-climbing guide in the southern region of Railay – is written off as of no account because he is not “the one”, although he is a font of sage oriental wisdom (or is it?).

Chase (Sam Hallinan) is a handsome charmer whose actual occupation is a mystery, as is the fate of his ex-fiancée, Patience. And it seems the outcome of Faith's encounter with Chase is what has got her stuck in some self-defeating need to rake over the past, with lap-dog Tom (or is he?).

The trouble is that we witness no deep trauma or betrayal sufficient to produce this outcome, other than the disappointment of some romantic fantasy failing to manifest in reality (welcome to actual life).

The welter of words Faith and Tom are obliged to plough through, in a ritual that wraps around itself with a few twists and turns to keep it interesting, may be able to be modulated in a way that reveals subtextual vulnerabilities and psychological insights. On opening night, however, it feels as if their major objective is to remember and say their words and get the story told – to serve, as I say, the needs of the playwright rather than their own characters' needs.   

Free of that burden, Cliff and Chase – albeit manifested as subjective memories, which may or may not represent how it actually was – are more able to ‘be' their characters and offer more subtle, and therefore more interesting, dimensions

I think there is something lurking in there regarding who really could be “the one” – or maybe the ‘good enough' man – for Faith; some truism to be revealed about women who can only be attracted to men who are bad for them, and relatively good men who are doomed to be the loyal and sometimes badly treated just-good-friend, until they find enough self-respect to walk away.

But this production, directed by Kerina Deas, has yet to draw us into empathy sufficiently to make such elements provike gut-level audience responses. And maybe the nature of the script militates against that possibility.

I'm left with the feeling that this Bangkok would be better told as a poignant short story that slowly reveals Faith's self-defeating mind-set, rather than as a 90-minute play requiring major dramatic contrivances that tend to obscure its heart and soul. 
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