Getting woes off her chest

Audrey Luo (above) plays the protagonist in the monologue, My Mother's Chest.
Audrey Luo (above) plays the protagonist in the monologue, My Mother's Chest.PHOTO: STANLEY NG



Stanley Ng and Audrey Luo

Drama Centre/Sunday

The plight of unwanted daughters among the Chinese, who in general covet sons because they carry the family name, was the premise of My Mother's Chest, an hour-long monologue put on by bosom buddies Stanley Ng and Audrey Luo. Ng produced and Luo performed, with direction by seasoned dramatist Jeffrey Low.

Playwright Ng Sin Yue, a woman, explores such familial unfairness through the eyes of her twice-married and oft-bullied heroine, who is sorting through a chest full of her late stepmother's belongings even as the rag-and-bone man toots his horn outside her flat.

Over 60 minutes, Luo as the stepdaughter ambled from corner to corner, sometimes lolling about on top of the chest, as she regaled the audience with her lot.

Abandoned as a girl by her birth mother, she was taken in by her biological father, who remarried a Teochew woman because he wanted a son but, alas, was himself too weak to help her conceive.

Forced to care for his daughter, his new wife adopted a boy and lavished on him the love she begrudged her stepdaughter - or so the latter thought.

The spoilt son grew fat and, after he married, hardly visited his adoptive mother. Eventually, he is too lazy even to offer prayers in her memory and so it is left to his adoptive sister to put the late woman's affairs in order.

Ng, who wrote My Mother's Chest some 20 years ago, should have asked herself then who would want to watch an actress drone on about half-baked characters whose traits were hard to like and whose motivations inscrutable.

Luo, a very capable actress, did her valiant best with such thin material and leaden directing. It was no small feat that she commanded the audience's attention from start to finish with little more than her sure, melodious voice and nuanced takes on grief and fury. She switched with ease among Teochew, Cantonese, Hokkien and Mandarin, infusing the play with piquancy as she tore into bric-a-brac wrapped in newspaper.

On and on the ripping went and one took to admiring the realistic set by Chan Silei, which transported the audience to a pioneer generation HDB flat littered with spit-speckled cushions, a dragon jar and an altar to the goddess Guan Yin.

In the dying minutes, Luo donned a green brocade jacket from the stepmother's imaginary corpse, and covered her head with a chilli- red cloth from the stepmother's wedding. With that, she told the late woman's side of the sob story which, alas, did nothing to round the play off.

So the audience was none the wiser as to how the plight of Chinese daughters might ever end.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Getting woes off her chest'. Print Edition | Subscribe