Theatre production I Am Trying To Say Something True deliberates the difficulty of truth

Actress Ellison Tan Yuyang as Risa in I Am Trying To Say Something True.
Actress Ellison Tan Yuyang as Risa in I Am Trying To Say Something True.PHOTO: ESPLANADE – THEATRES ON THE BAY

SINGAPORE - The play I Am Trying To Say Something True, which deliberates the difficulty of truth, could not have come at a better time.

It was performed at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on Saturday (April 15), in a time when so much discussion is swirling on the issue of fake news.

Its exploration, however, is of a different type of truth - personal truth - or rather, the travails of understanding, and speaking, one's inner humanity.

This is a tough one. After all, given how heated discussions involving external truth - visible and examinable ones - can be, how much harder then to reconcile ourselves with the truths hidden and buried under layers of self-denial?

This monologue, performed by freelance theatre practitioner and educator Ellison Yuyang Tan, puts the character Risa, a 28-year-old who has lost her job, in dialogue with a psychiatrist.

With a sharp, tight script by writer and drama educator Michelle Tan, as well as clever direction from theatre veteran T. Sasitharan, the play showed strong symbolism, such as when Risa removes layer upon layer of outer clothing, hinting at the uncovering of a more original, authentic self.

In another segment, Risa recalls her experiences while walking around in circles onstage, as if to suggest that she herself does not know where she is heading in life.

And the simple set - a plain backdrop with a couch, chair and bicycle as the main props - also hints at an emptiness that engulfs and threatens to consume her - an unthinkably heartbreaking loss that she cannot articulate, let alone overcome.

Risa, as she readily admits herself, is a liar, although not in a law-breaking, scandalous sort of way. Rather, the mildness and highly relatable nature of her lies seems to suggest that everyone is a liar.

Her lies run the gamut of grandiose embellishments made to justify her own actions, to reflexive defensiveness that serve to solidify the mental block within. There are also white lies, lies by omission, or those that originate from a lack of courage to speak the truth.

The production delves into deep psychological tensions, but Michelle Tan's script has a lightness and optimism, with a dash of self-deprecating humour and razor-sharp sarcasm - which keeps Risa likeable throughout.

Her lone attempt to speak the unspeakable is movingly admirable in its own quiet way.