i am trying to say something true (2018), Review

2 minutes read
i am trying to say something true
12 April 2018, 8:00pm


True, But Not Clear

The premise: Risa (played by Ellison Tan), a troubled young civil servant who has lost her job, recounts her story over a series of visits to a therapist. We learn about her complex love-hate relationship with her grandmother and parents, her struggles in coming to terms with being religious and lesbian, and the beauty and sadness of her first relationship.

The story itself had the potential to be moving. But because the subject matter has by now become a bit of a clichéd trope, I imagine it is rather difficult to write about it in a novel way, or one that encourages people to think differently about it. I am trying to say something true does try earnestly to say something true, but perhaps too earnestly.

The text of the monologue does not help its case, at times being witty or poetic to the point of being unbelievable. I would perhaps have bought it as the text of a novel or short story, but not as realistic spoken dialogue between a woman and her therapist.

Even more mystifying is the randomness of the staging elements, which do not coherently support each other. Near the beginning, in the midst of Risa recounting how she lost her job, the sound of elevator announcements going from floor to floor plays in the background. This effect is disjunctive because it appears arbitrary. It has little relationship to what Risa is saying (apart from perhaps the obvious link to an office environment), and ends up overpowering the stage action.

Indeed, the sound and music is jarring throughout the play. Thought has clearly been given to working with the technical capacities of the venue, as the sound comes from particular speakers in the room at different points. However, there does not seem to be a clear reason for this particularity, and overall the levels of background music tend to overwhelm Tan’s speech.

Over the course of the monologue, Risa moves between two clearly separate stage areas – an armchair upstage centre, and a sofa downstage right. Although the armchair appears to demarcate the therapist’s office, that isn’t always the case. A bicycle is placed downstage left, never used and shrouded in darkness most of the time. Risa never approaches that part of the stage. She only mentions a bicycle incident briefly, near the end of the play. It is, quite frankly, a struggle to make sense of all this.

Saying something true is just a first step. As with all new works, several rounds of remoulding and chipping at it would be needed to eventually settle into a piece that says something clear.

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