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Women on Canvas
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Women on Canvas


Women on Canvas


Reviewed by Arthur Kok

Words: Jonathan Lim
Music: Bang Wenfu
Cast: Annie Ferrao, Candice de Rozario, Valerie Oh, Yzara Wong
Date: 21 Jun 2000
Rating: **** (out of five stars)

An art gallery. A collection of paintings. Different genres, different media, different periods, different provenance. A fit arena for four women to meet, to talk, to 'hang'. Stubbornly nameless, these four are random living snapshots of the ordinary. As with Degas, Giger, Magritte and Picasso, playwright Jonathan Lim highlights the extraordinary by framing the ordinary. In "Women on Canvas - A Musical", paintings are taken out of their frames leaving bare plastic frames suspended in midair. Instead, the works of art are projected onto a screen just as actors actualize inanimate heroines depicted on canvas.

With the strong current of what you see is not what you get, the four women in the gallery start off as recognizable "kinds": an uppity tai-tai, a bespectacled crone, an "American Asian" youth and a museum guide. Like a cubist tilt or a surrealistic vision, however, these four women discard their easy categories at points in the play to set to music the female subjects of select paintings. The landed lady becomes a glamour puss objecting the fuzzy portrait done of her. The hypersensitive bookworm transforms into a pubescent girl with emerging sexuality and power. The Anglophilic youth gushes as a New York Jew recounting her experience with Warhol. The gallery help morphs into a bird-eating girl heavy with anxiety and fear of men who use, abuse and devour.

But really, Lim would point out that the changes reside in simply how you frame the character. Complementing with his own framing device - music - composer Bang Wenfu creates a textured tonality that floats midway between electronica and swing, teasing lyric out of prose. "Women on Canvas" is an outrageously successful pairing where Bang's keen musicality clasped tightly with Lim's wickedly delicious authorship.

The satisfaction of the performance was secured by the potent cast - Annie Ferrao, Candice de Rozario, Valerie Oh and Yzara Wong. A truly buoyant moment captured three sirens singing in perfect harmony degenerate into a hilariously Singlish instance of female bickering and then reluctantly shaping up for the next unsuspecting seafaring enterprise. Whether singing in harmony, chiming and chanting in unison, or taking the stage individually, each actor stole a piece of the audience's heart. Mine went particularly to Wong, whose rare combination of impeccable timing, measured sensitivity, unquenchable energy and huge stage presence deserves adulation.

The play drove on with thrilling energy, touching on issues as to stir enough laughter and thought before snapping from one vignette into another. As the play ended, every character seemed wiser for having watched and studied the paintings on the wall and each other. And so the audience in the presence of such brilliance.

This review first appeared in The Flying Inkpot.