Catch it now till 14 July at TheatreWorks
Photos: Jeannie Ho
Now until 28 July, local performing arts company TheatreWorks is running their first female-centric project known as N.O.W. (Not Ordinary Work). Among many exciting live performances, exhibitions, film screenings and more, one of the highlights is the play Three Fat Virgins Unassembled (3FVU). Based on the critically acclaimed play of the same name by Ovidia Yu, it looks at the lives of Singapore women as they negotiate the demands of modern society.
But the Singapore society of 1991, when Yu wrote the play, is very different from that of 2019… right? This new production by TheatreWorks re-stages the Three Fat Virgins Unassembled with a cast of young and bright local talents – Chanel Chan, Munah Bagharib, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai and Zelda Tatiana Ng – as the four main characters, while also updating the script for contemporary audiences. But anyone who has read the play or seen an early staging of it would recognise that, after more than 20 years, the new production raises the same core questions about gender identity in Singapore.
Just four actresses make up the small ensemble cast, but they play a myriad of different characters, both female and male, and constantly shift between them. This demanding role-playing reproduces the way that women in the real world today play many roles: wife, mother, daughter, worker, friend and more. The characters are not random but all related and branching out from the stories of three main women, old secondary school classmates who reunite by chance in their early thirties, one of them married with kids.
As in the original 1991 play, the women in this production also face sexual harassment in the workplace and public, their husband’s infidelity, dominating husbands and male bosses, and the juggle to balance the needs of their family and the demands of their job. After nearly three decades, have we made much progress in treating women with respect, as humans?
Three Fat Virgins Unassembled suggests that no, not enough has changed, but things are getting better. When the three women come together, share their struggles and give each other advice – for example, to leave a stressful job led by an awful boss – we see the empowering strength of a community of women. This support encourages the women to love themselves, to love the “Fat Virgin” within themselves. Don’t go into the theatre expecting three literally fat virgins on the stage; the “Fat Virgin” might not necessarily be fat nor a virgin, but the inner self within a woman that’s fragmented and brimming with desires that may not be socially acceptable. What one’s “Fat Virgin” means or represents is up to the individual (including us in the audience) to interpret, as it is always evolving.
Impressively, Three Fat Virgins Unassembled explores these serious and heavy topics with a lot of humour. Director Grace Kalaiselvi and her cast acutely capture the mannerisms and cadences of Singapore male and female archetypes to great hilarity. Much of the humour also comes from the many raunchy references from start to finish. Don’t let the “virgin” in the name of the play fool you; this play is sexy. The audience burst out laughing at so many points throughout the play, we thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced comedy.
There are also moments when the play gets very real, at times too real, reminding us of situations we ourselves or someone we know have been through. Under Kalaiselvi’s careful direction, the play weaves together its comedic and somber tones, such that every moment stresses the struggle for women to love themselves and shines a hopeful path to that self-love if not for the characters, then for us in the audience.
All four actresses have excellent comedic timing and their own sincere questioning about what it means to be a woman flows through their performances. Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai delivers a superbly memorable performance, shifting between the most number of characters and moving us to speechlessness with a beautiful a cappella that is alone reason enough to see the play.
Catch the play at these times:
13 July, 7:30pm
13 and 14 July, 3pm
Get your tickets ($35) here.
TheatreWorks, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 239007
See the full N.O.W. program here.