Theatre review: A Second Life sags in its current form

Back in 2008, playwright Tan Suet Lee presented Sperm, a short play that explored a single woman's right to artificial insemination. Seven years on, her attention has shifted from the future of reproduction to the future of relationships - specifically, the idea of virtual romance.

A Second Life, produced by Little Red Shop, features two protagonists. The first is Lawrence (Ian Chionh), a recently wheelchair-bound shut-in who finds solace in a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. The second is his wife Mary (Gillian Tan), who urges him to engage with the outside world again.

When Mary discovers Lawrence has an online lover - a kimono-clad avatar named Louella (Varshini) - she attempts to break them up by entering the game herself. This has unforeseen consequences: Lawrence is driven to suicidal depression, ultimately leading the two to enlist their friend Adam (Andrew Choo) into a bizarre ritual of surrogate sex.

There is much to like in Tan's script. Her vision of the medieval Japanese-themed MMO world is delightful, with its dragons, magic potions and healing ropes. One is especially amused when she highlights the mechanics behind the fantasy, as seen in Mary's confusion when she tries to design and control her avatar. Most moving, perhaps, is the exposé of how we cruelly demand that disabled people be inspirational. Not all wheelchair-bound folks can be Paralympians; some need space to mourn.

Sadly, director Yeo Hon Beng's staging falls short of the ideal. Transitions between scenes are slow and clumsy, while multimedia and puppetry segments appear shoddy and superfluous. Most problematic are his leads, both of whom lack the necessary charisma to draw us into the action. Gillian Tan, for instance, consistently underplays her character's desperation, except in the over-long climactic sex scene, where her reluctance is emphasised to the point that the act resembles rape. Only Varshini seems truly at home in the role of the cartoonish Louella - though hers is, alas, the smallest part in the play.

In its current form, A Second Life drags. Tan may wish to tighten the text, possibly eliminating the subplot of Adam's threesome, focusing more intently on Lawrence and Mary's loneliness and the possibilities of technology. Certainly, she can afford to make her dialogue more colloquial and humorous.

It may seem like a waste of time to rework this play. However, a wealth of potential lies within. The topic of virtual love is rich and complex: though this production may not do it justice, another one might.

Book it

A Second Life

Where: Play Den @ The Arts House

When: Friday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm and 8pm

Admission: $30 from Bytes (call 6332 6919 or go to http://www.bytes.sg/)