Review of Hitting (on) Women

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hitting on a raw nerve

Action Theatre
The Room Upstairs
Last Friday

Hong Xinyi

Your skin is so thin, an ex-lover says of this play’s nameless protagonist at one point.

The remark carries the sting of an accusation in that particular scene: Why do you get hurt so easily, why do you take things so much to heart?

Janice Koh’s portrayal of this damaged woman hinges very much on this quality of thin-skinned vulnerability. A charismatic and often canny actress, she references a variety of exercises aimed at honing and strengthening the body, from aerobics to yoga.

But despite the lean muscularity of her bared arms, this woman remains a wisp, a slip of a body that seems always on the verge of crumpling and collapsing. Her eyes brim with sudden tears at every turn – especially when she laughs, with genuine warmth, at recollections of happy moments in a former abusive relationship.

It’s a disciplined and unsentimental rendition of someone who is trying with all her might not to unravel and easily the best thing about this production. As the sometimes violent ex-lover Karen who haunts Koh’s memories, Serene Chen brings a sense of gauche, boyish bravado to the role. Her swagger never feels real and there is something very touching and very terrifying about her blows – they have the pleading vehemence of a child throwing a tantrum.

Directed by Samantha Scott-Blackhall, the tensions and seductions of this relationship are rendered with exacting skill by playwright Ovidia Yu and utterly riveting when considered on their own.

Some aspects of the staging, however, were distracting. The dramatic device of various other minor characters making brief appearances was awkwardly integrated and, at times just seemed like an amateurish sitcom flourish despite a few fun comic moments.

The set, which consisted of a giant table and chair and many coils of telephone wires covering the stage, was a bit of a hit-and-miss. There is a moment when Koh deliberately covers herself with a blanket of the entangled wires, nestling inside with an enraptured, resolute expression that is a poignant encapsulation of how people wallow.

Mostly, however, the wires looked a lot like masses of instant noodles and the giant furniture gave a jarringly cartoonish accent to what was most certainly a very adult play.