SINGAPORE - Death and illness are not subjects one likes to think about - especially when it involves one's family members. But that makes Jean Tay's acclaimed play Everything But The Brain all the more compelling as it tackles the semi-taboo topic with near-equal doses of humour, truth and poignancy - plus, a dash of Einstein's most famous theory.
When the play debuted in 2005, it earned glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike. The touching tale of Elaine Lim, a 36-year-old physics teacher who spends a year nursing her sick but proud professor father Chong Boon, instantly struck a chord with Singaporeans - and not just those who have had to care for aged parents.
Tay's framing of the emotional father-daughter story against Einstein's theory of relativity and her infusion of fairy tale elements into the plot were like spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down. The play went on to win the awards for Best Original Script (for Tay) and Best Actor (for Gerald Chew as the father) at the Life! Theatre Awards 2006.
Now the play is set for its second re-run, with Chew reprising his role as the father and Koh Wan Ching playing the role of the daughter.
Directed by Derrick Chew and produced by Sight Lines Productions, it will have a somewhat more stylised staging while still "retaining the emotional core of the drama", promises Chew.
Meanwhile, for Chew, returning to the role of stroke-stricken father is becoming something of a ritual, having been the only actor to have played the role in the play's eight-year-history.
Indeed, the script describes the father as a "66-year-old retired physics professor". Chew was only 42 when he first played it in 2005; now he's 50 - closer to the actual age of the character than before.
He says: "I'm actually curious to see what aspects of the role I may have missed the first two times I played Chong Boon. I relish the opportunity to approach the role differently, now that I'm working with a different cast and director."
Indeed, the play was first directed by the late and acclaimed Krishen Jit, followed by award-winning Samantha Scott-Blackhall. The role of the daughter was played both times by veteran Pamela Oei - leaving director Chew and actress Koh big shoes to fill.
But Koh says, with a laugh: "What's intriguing for me is this open, demonstrative relationship that the father and daughter have with each other. I grew up in a traditional Chinese family, where we don't show much of our emotions. So it's a challenge to play this woman who openly quarrels with her father.
"As for trying to match Pamela Oei's performance, I think I'm lucky for missing the first two productions. That gives me no reference point, allowing me to create the character completely from scratch."
Everything But The Brain by Sight Lines Productions plays at the DBS Arts Centre from Aug 10 to 21, Tuesdays to Fridays, 8pm, weekends, 3 and 8pm. Tickets from $35 to $55 from Sistic.
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