1990s play with enduring drama of a fairy tale

Mergers And Accusations plays out on a stage annoyingly divided into compartments.

The audience looks front left for scenes in an office, back left for a hotel room or bedroom, top right for restaurant and bottom right for home.

As the characters' hopes, loves and ambition spill over from one setting to another, the point is made that human emotion cannot be regulated and compartmentalised. To riff off Eleanor Wong's script, even the most detailed contract fails to account for human emotion.

This 26-year-old script has the enduring drama of a fairy tale: colleagues become best friends, then lovers, then a wedded couple.

The problem with the fairy tale is that Ellen loves women, not men.

She is persuaded to marry Jon only because he promises to be the perfect home-maker.

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    MERGERS AND ACCUSATIONS

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He allows her to have affairs, as long as he and their progeny are the top priority. It is the traditional heterosexual marriage contract in reverse. It works for a time, until Jon, like so many women before him, feels reduced and belittled by his household role.

This staging helmed by director Chen Yingxuan retains the 1990s setting of the original: landlines ring, cigarettes are smoked within offices. Offices today are mostly smoke-free zones, but tragically, the situation presented in the play could still take place.

As gay relationships are largely demonised by society, Ellen is driven to consider a heterosexual partnership and Jon to believe that the marital bargain he proposes can truly satisfy their needs. Both promise too much and ask too little of their relationship.

Lead performers Shane Mardjuki and Oon Shu An have just the right amount of chemistry required between Jon and Ellen.

Their friendship and mutual affection are believable, as is the slow deadening of their relationship.

Unfortunately, the production is unable to complete a believable love triangle with Nessa Anwar's appearance as Lesley, an openly lesbian lawyer. One would expect Ellen to show more passion with this character.

The play is part of Wong's Invitation To Treat trilogy, a ground-breaking series that treated the lives and loves of a queer protagonist as sensitively and as matter-of-factly as heterosexual narratives would.

Ellen also features in the sequels, Wills & Secessions (1995) and Jointly & Severably (2003) and, many theatregoers, including this production's director, cite Ellen and Lesley as the first lesbian couple encountered in a play.

Mergers And Accusations is a tragedy on multiple levels.

There is the tragedy of what happens when people are pushed into predetermined roles and not granted the freedom to be their entire selves. There is also the unavoidable tragic truth that all relationships change because people change over time.

Those who once meant the most can become the deadweights that prevent one from finding meaning and joy in life.

It is appropriate that several scenes, including the last one, have the protagonists crossing paths at an airport terminal.

Jon and Ellen are going places. They were just never going in the same direction.

• Mergers And Accusations is sold out.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2019, with the headline '1990s play with enduring drama of a fairy tale'. Print Edition | Subscribe