REVIEW / THEATRE
MY MOTHER BUYS CONDOMS
Singapore Theatre Festival
Creative Cube, Lasalle College of the Arts/ Last Saturday
My Mother Buys Condoms will have teens and 20 somethings squirming in their seats. Those over 30 should smile in relief that there is life in senior citizenry.
Lok Meng Chue plays Maggie, a retired schoolteacher separated from her husband and with two grown-up children who have their own lives. She falls for her air-con repairman Raju (Remesh Panicker) after teaching him to read.
Their consensual, adult relationship scandalises Maggie's son (Joshua Lim) and her oldest friend Nora (Elnie S. Mashari).
The only person likely to understand is Maggie's daughter (Seong Hui Xuan), who is keeping her own relationship secrets.
My Mother Buys Condoms, directed by Ivan Heng, is among the most intriguing offerings of Wild Rice's ongoing Singapore Theatre Festival.
It is best summed up in the words of its debut playwright, Helmi Yusof, an established arts writer with The Business Times. "I don't know much about the sexuality of older women," he says in the programme booklet and that is likely true of many viewers as well.
Women, young and old, are not encouraged to embrace and enjoy their sexuality. Maggie, a literature teacher, compares her awakening to that of Anna Karenina and Romeo And Juliet, both works in which the heroine's daring to choose her lover leads to a sad end.
What upsets Maggie's friend as well as her son is the idea that being a doting mum and grandmother is not enough to fulfil a 60something woman. It is outrageous to think that a woman of a certain age can have sexual urges and a need for physical intimacy. It is even more outrageous to think that these could be satisfied by a less- educated "foreign worker" - Raju is Malaysian.
The exceptionally delightful theme keeps one engaged through the first 30 minutes, when actors seem to feel their way into their roles and their interaction is not entirely convincing. The sexual tension between Maggie and Raju, for example, could have been built more slowly.
Once the relationship between them is established, however, the play hits its stride. Scenes flow from sentiment to comedy. A clandestine tryst leads to slapstick moments as Raju and Maggie try to hide their relationship from her children.
Eventually, Maggie owns up to her sexuality in an applause- generating moment that should rightfully have been accompanied by a power ballad.
Lok's transformation from dowdy retiree to woman in her prime is delightful to watch, as is Panicker's bumblingly sweet courtship. Nora's role is equally well played by Elnie, and as important to the heart of the story.
In one of the most poignant scenes, Maggie tries to explain her happiness in the new relationship to Nora. Her friend responds with disgust. Girl-talk was fine when they were girls, but now they are women, Nora says. Sex and out- of-wedlock sex at that is just not fitting for women their age.
It is a conversation that sums up the controversy in a play that should not be controversial at all.
Depending on one's reaction to Nora's words, My Mother Buys Condoms is either a sweet love story or one that erodes the moral foundations of society.
- The show is sold out