Pangdemonium’s productions are always so human. As in, they take very real situations, often with a clear message behind it and deliver. Last year, my favourite was Tribes – a play about a deaf young man and his “dysfunctional” family (well, compared with mine, theirs seems pretty damn functional to me).
Last Saturday I saw Falling – a play about a family and their autistic son/sibling/grandson. I think I have to identify all the levels of relationship, because often people just think about the heartbreak of the parents and don’t see the impact of having someone with “mental issues” on the other members of the family.
In both plays, I identified with the siblings the most – well, they elicited the most emotion in me. Growing up with a schizophrenic brother is not easy. I’m not going to get into the details of that for now, because I’d like to get on with my thoughts about the play. But it gives you some insight into where I’m coming from and why I felt like I was watching my life unfold on stage. And if I don’t use certain politically correct terms or if I just sound harsh, please understand that I AM in that situation. I am not someone with a normal family sitting on her high horse, passing unenlightened comments. My tone may sound caustic but don’t diss it till you been in it.
Warning – spoiler alert, though it isn’t like this is some M Night Shyamalan movie, so depending on how purist you are, read at your own risk.
Also, this isn’t a blow by blow account with an analysis of the actors/characters, it’s not your typical review format. I’m just picking out parts that I thought were brilliant. Well, the whole play was, but these are the parts that touched me.
The play does well to give a “day-in-the-life-of” account of a family dealing with a mentally challenged member. Come to think of it – the whole play spans just a day, and by the end of it, you will feel exhausted for the family! I like the Cliff notes summary of some of the behaviours that autistic people may exhibit – repetitive behaviour, sensitivity to sound and needless to say, “lack of social skills”. Transport the scenario over to my home and you could just as well replace the autistic kid with a schizophrenic.
In the play, Tami (mother), Bill (father) and Lisa (sister) build their daily lives and routines around Josh. From making sure that he has headphones on when Lisa needs to use the blender, to the daily routine of getting him ready for school, to the constant bargaining that the mom has to have with her son, just to get him to do certain things, it’s clear that lives revolve around him.
Yes, the play is about unconditional love but I am also happy that they were brave enough to show the flip side – the hate. When Tami tells her daughter that no matter what, a mother will always love her child, but as a sister, she has a choice as to how she feels – well, yes, and no. Perhaps choice isn’t the right concept as it implies a careful thought process ending in a grand decision to hate someone. It’s not quite the parallel we’re talking about – as a sibling, you will never have the inexplicable love for someone the way a mother has for her child. That’s all. And that means, you can end up eventually hating your sibling.
When he dies, the relief and (joy?) that Lisa shows – frankly, I was relieved too when Josh died. Strange huh – but it’s true. I actually felt happy that the play killed him off, and now we can all just get on with our lives. And then it’s revealed that it was just Tami’s hallucination. Well, bummer. (Yes, this is where you might be tempted to judge me, but like I said, don’t diss it till you been in it).
And then, comes the “identifying with my Mom” part. The play really showcases the love, the desperation, the depression, the despondency, everything that a mom would feel in this situation. I thought that Tami would say that she was relieved when she thought her son had died, but here’s the clincher. All she said was that she felt dead – like there was nothing left. And that led her to the realization that she doesn’t want to put her son in a home, ever. Despite all the stress and even physical threats that she faced with him, she will look after him until she cannot do so any longer. Unconditional love indeed.
The play ends off with her asking Josh to “help her” (how wise, because he IS the only one who can “help” her) while he blithely continues playing and doesn’t seem to hear her. And as she falls back onto the couch, she asks “catch me?” – and it leaves me to wonder, is she asking her son or is she asking the spiritual beings that be?
Yes, the play weaves in, courtesy of the visiting grandma, a let’s trust in god, leave it to god, pray to god etc element too. I suppose that’s another age-old question, if there’s a god, why does this happen blah blah and frankly, I quite love the irreverence of the parents when it comes to this matter. They know their reality, what is real and what is not. They know that only they can handle him and take care of him.
The usage of feathers – is that another awesome tool to showcase how this is the exact opposite of being light? It’s dead heavy you know, having to deal with someone with mental issues, day in and day out.
Speaking of awesome tools, there was no intermission. And although I know there are other plays that don’t have intermissions, I thought this was a conscious decision on their part not to have a break because – well, the family doesn’t ever get a break, does it??? I think this is one of the most effective methods the director has used to showcase the neverending cycle of having to live with someone with mental issues.
(I loved the way Adrian Pang says at the end of the play that “that’s it folks, this isn’t an intermission, there’s no happy-ever-after nicely wrapped up end to this story”).
There were two songs used in the play – Bring Me To Life by Evanescence and Fly Away by Lenny Kravitz. Again, great choice – seeing as how one is a plea to “wake me up inside” and the other expresses the impossible desire to just “fly away”. Sorry folks, for some of us – that’s just a dream, this will always be a part of us, and we just keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ – hey, Pangdemonium, maybe you should’ve used Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ to showcase how we just have to keep going on, despite the hell we’re in. Joke.
I think I now know why Adrian Pang called his theatre company Pangdemonium. Yes, it’s his surname but with all the pang you feel when you watch their productions, that’s a very apt name.
Anyway, whether you identify yourself in the same situation, or you just want to watch a really great, heartfelt production dealing with a tough topic, please, do watch Falling. It’s good.
Falling by Pangdemonium:
Dates: 13 May – 5 June
Venue: KC Arts Centre, Home of SRT
Buy Tickets: http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/falling0616