ST: Finding love on the pink map--Gay Play 'Landmarks'

Monday, February 2, 2004

Finding love on the pink map--Gay Play 'Landmarks'

by Clarissa Oon
'Vampiric' is an unusual choice of word to describe the profession of a writer, but it suits Alfian Sa'at, who says he had been carrying around the skeleton of his latest play long before he actually wrote it. The heartfelt gay-themed stories in Landmarks, which opens on Wednesday, were drawn from 'a bit of me, a bit of my friends - men, women, gay, straight as well as asexual people'.

The 25-year-old National University of Singapore undergraduate adds with a grin: 'I do offer a consoling shoulder to friends who confide in me, but there are also the naughty moments when I do some note-taking at home later.' Landmarks' director Ivan Heng thinks far more people than just Alfian's mates will recognise themselves in the production, billed as a more poignant sequel to the playwright's burlesque hit from 2000, Asian Boys Vol 1.

Sure, the stories in the upcoming work will take audiences on a journey across Singapore's pink map, from the gay saunas of Ann Siang Hill to the cruising spots of Raffles City and Fort Road. But Heng, 40, thinks the play 'will reach out not only to the gay community but to anyone who has been in love, longed for it or got hurt by it'. The artistic director of Wild Rice theatre company had been a fan of Alfian's work since picking up his maiden poetry collection, One Fierce Hour (1998).

Heng approached the writer two years ago to create a new work together, and the outcome was Landmarks, which first appeared on the director's table in Feb last year. If Vol 1 attempted to rewrite Singapore history from a gay perspective in camp, tongue-in-cheek fashion, the sequel was inspired by geography, or what Alfian calls 'private and public spaces charged with encounters'.

Hopes, heartbreak and humiliation emerge from these eight stories, each lasting between eight to 18 minutes. They include the tantalising encounter of a 50-something uncle and a haughty young stud in a bathhouse, and the reflections of a man and woman whose lives are changed by the actual 1993 arrests of 12 gay men cruising off Fort Road.

Veteran actress Nora Samosir, who starred in Vol 1 as the fantasy goddess Agnes, joins the 17-member all-Singaporean cast of the sequel playing a mother trying to come to terms with her son's sexuality. Another highlight of the production is the use of stills of different locations in Singapore, taken by photographer Chris Yap. Despite ongoing gay-related controversies such as whether Section 377 of the Penal Code and its criminal prohibition of oral sex should be repealed, Alfian says Landmarks is driven by its characters, 'and if there are issues, they are inextricably a part of the character's lives'.

Topicality aside, Heng believes there is a universal quality to Alfian's writing. He says: 'It's very easy to say our plays must be 'global', but what exactly is that? 'As the playwright George Bernard Shaw said, 'The man who writes about himself and his own time, is the only man who writes about all people and all time'.' . Landmarks is on from Wednesday to Feb 15 at 8pm at the Esplanade's Theatre Studio. Tickets at $38 each available from Sistic (tel: 6348-5555).