Caught Everything But The Brain by Sightlines Productions today with Couch Theatre, and it was rather disappointing. I read the script in J2, I think after J1 production, because of Boom; and maybe once more last year, when I was in a missing-Players funk and wanted some Jean Tay to remind me of lost times. The seniors also did EBTB for their J1 production; and while I didn’t watch that live, Shien managed to get a copy of the video, which I stole from his iPod. So because of all of that, my expectations for Sightline’s EBTB was pretty darn high: the script is amazingly written (as usual for Jean Tay), and our seniors did a really good staging of the play.
My main gripe with the way that Sightlines did EBTB was the direction. From the moment the play started, I already felt distanced from the performance; maybe because of the minimalist setting, and the nagging sensation that the director, Derrick Chew, seemed to be staging EBTB for a black-box and not a Proscenium stage. And so, even though Chew may have meant to create a more intimate sort of environment, I felt the total opposite, because it felt like I was watching a rehearsal instead of the actual performance.
This may also have been because the characters did not appear to be very well fleshed out. There were many moments in the play when I felt like the actors were simply delivering lines instead of acting — maybe Chew played it too much on the naturalistic side, such that it felt more like reality than watching a depiction of reality.
There was a certain monotony that laced the performance, which (although this is rather superficial) the dull, black backdrop did not help to improve. I was rather disappointed with how the Bears were portrayed, because there was a sense of them holding back a lot. For me, what makes EBTB such a potentially awesome script to put up is the bears. I remember when Couch was thinking of EBTB, and literally everyone wanted to be a bear, because of how colourful the role seemed. And I think that’s what the purpose of the chorus was: to, as Shien said, “steal the show”, and make the show great. But for some reason, while you could see that the chorus was trying to push the energy of the play, and up the “liveliness”, it fell flat at times — not that they were trying too hard, but they were holding back in some aspects. And that made the pace of the play rather slow at times. But even saying this, I thought that the actors in the chorus still did a rather commendable job, and they did bring life to the otherwise kind of dull play.
And while I could see what Chew was going with Koh Wan Ching’s rendition of Elaine as a plain, almost dowdy, middle-aged woman, I thought it was a little too much. There were many times in the play when I just zoned out, because I just couldn’t pay attention to her… to me, it seemed like she was lacking in stage presence because it didn’t look like she was acting, it looked like she was just being herself. And that sort of exacerbated the feeling of watching a rehearsal instead of a performance; so many lines felt like she was just reading the script, instead of performing them properly. There was no sense of real character to Elaine, and that made her portrayal rather dull — I’m sure there are people who will disagree with me on this, but I just couldn’t feel her presence on-stage.
I guess, the main problem was that for EBTB, Chew had a lot of good ideas, but his execution was just a little off. There were many interesting details that he added to the play, but it just wasn’t done very well. For example, lighting wise: there were scenes with a rectangular shaft of light that to me, seemed to be there for no reason; this light would appear again in another scene, at a different location on the stage. After the play, Ziyad said that this light moved slowly from one end of the stage to the other, guessing that they were to mimic “train windows” as the train (a running metaphor in the play) moved from one point to another. His explanation sort of made sense; but as I was watching the play, I was just slightly frustrated when I saw it, because the actors were never in this light (the stage was already well-lit without this particular light, so seeing the actors wasn’t the problem). In fact, there were many points in the play, where the actors were just slightly out of the light; and it just looked so ugly from where I was sitting. So to me, such a lighting choice, while clever in thought, failed in the execution and delivery of the director’s intention.
Sightlines may have relied too heavily on the fact that EBTB is a good script, to carry their play. Because of how the play is written, you definitely need a really good director, or directorial vision, to do EBTB well; and I don’t think Sightlines managed to achieve the full potential that the script offered… which is such a pity really, because I was really excited to watch the show.
(And just a bitchy aside from me, I couldn’t really stand to listen to the show. Aurally, the different accents that each actor had onstage made the play incoherent to me, because it just grated on my nerves. But I’m pretty sure this is just a Rei problem, and not a legit problem.)
So was it worth the $50? Maybe not. But I’m still glad that I caught EBTB because the script is really lovely, and there were redeeming moments: such as every time Gerald Chew opens his mouth (an exaggeration, but that man is really good); and also the exchange between Samuel and Elaine about where they first met (that was the part of the play I enjoyed the most). I just can’t help but wonder, what if Couch had continued with our original plan, and did EBTB anyway — how would we have done it differently? And, would we have done it any better? (The arrogant side of me says yes.)
But it was still a good way to spend a Sunday night: meeting Couch to discuss company manners, finally catching the first play in a long while, and talking more nonsense with Couch after that. I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long time.