Intimate look at people with depression

REVIEW / THEATRE

DEAR JAY

Blue Bean Productions, Esplanade Theatre Studio/Thursday

This play about depression is performed with touching sincerity.

Both scriptwriter Euginia Tan and producer-performer Benedict Leong are intimately familiar with the struggles of the nameless, unspeakable sadness that consumes Leonard, Leong's character in Dear Jay. The artists' e-mail exchanges helped develop the script about two friends supporting each other through their battles with mental illness.

This inaugural work of theatre by Leong's Blue Bean Productions, directed by Hazel Ho, neatly helps viewers get into the heads of those who suffer depression.

  • BOOK IT /DEAR JAY

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Today, 3and 8pm; and tomorrow, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $35, e-mailaskbluebean@gmail.com

    INFO: Advisory 16 (Some mature content)

Set design by Gabrilla Samsir includes tables and screens strung together with grey wire, evoking the sticky spiderweb trap of negative feelings. Lighting by Daniel Lee alternates bright and dark to let the audience participate in the characters' feelings of being trapped.

A strong ensemble - Vivienne Wong, Juliana Kassim Chan, Darrell Chan, Nicholas Bloodworth and Adam Amil Sharif - plays the voices Jay and Leonard hear all the time. These voices whisper words of self-hatred, shame and accusation, pressing up against Jay or Leonard until the audience can hardly breathe.

Sometimes, the voices are happily quiet. More often, they are set off by a phone call or a casual phrase at the dinner table that stirs unhappy memories.

Actress Zenda Tan is fragile and luminous as Jay, a girl who suffers from eating disorders that may or may not be linked to her broken home. Leong is a convincing Leonard, but the script is tilted too much towards giving that character monologues to explain his condition.

The script by Euginia Tan - also a published poet - sounds like it would be better read. It is a little florid for theatre. The words she chooses do not always suit the actors. Would a 20something middle-class Singaporean realistically compare women with thoroughbred mares?

One of the best scenes in Dear Jay discards dialogue for the simple silence of a father and son having a meal. The father heaps food on the son's bowl, showing his affection, but also burdening Leonard with the weight of his expectations.

Actions speak much louder than words on stage, especially in a play about unspoken truths.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2016, with the headline 'Intimate look at people with depression'. Print Edition | Subscribe