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Charley's Auntie
 
12/11/2001
The Edge
CROSS-DRESSERS HAVE ALL THE FUN
Stripped down play stimulates appreciative reviewer
By Jerome Kugan

I must say that after deliberating over my choice of words on how to exactly describe my experience of watching Charley's Auntie!, this had been such a delightful mango. It was tart, sweet and plump. I smack my lips in satisfaction. Totally impossible to find any fault with it. I simply can't go on. I'm so wracked with admiration for this play that soon I'll be writing odes to Ford Supermodels. I love it. Love it, you hear?!

And what did I love exactly? Well… everything! I loved Louisa Chong's brief German accent. I loved Zaibo's raspy voice and pelvic thrusts. I loved Taj's imitation of Kermit the Frog. I loved the little psychedelic number that Zoë Christian wore. All the crotch-grabbing turned me on. Yves Yap's token "Ah Beng" was endearingly un-PC. And the girls… oh… the two girls were so cute, one could leave them in a pet store and wouldn't be able to tell them apart from the hamsters.

Gardner & Wife are just so right on the money with this nifty little production. One couldn't possibly go wrong with dropping shorts, sly sexual innuendoes, mistaken identities, embarrassing discoveries and cross-dressing. Their clever adaptation of it to a Malaysian setting translates well, seeing how this country loves sending up its colonial heritage.

And then, of course, there's the crafty limelight stealer, Rashid Salleh, who has thankfully been given a more suitable role this time around after his ill-cast turn as G.B. Shaw in last month's Gross Indecency. Rashid saved the night. I cried tears and rolled around in the aisle laughing up my dinner as he delivered the crude jokes at 110kph and bullied all the other characters on stage. And all this while fanning his crotch. God, I wanted to throw him flowers. (Alas I didn't bring a bouquet.)

Since there's nothing I can possibly write here that will stop you from going to watch this play, I will spare you the obligatory brief synopsis (which would really spoil the fun for Charley virgins) and try instead to distract you with what some learned friends of mine thought of Charley's Auntie!. It's more fun this way. Trust me.

One friend looked at me with a deadpan face and demanded to know what relevancy the production had to Malaysian society in the light of the country's current situation. He glumly said that he didn't see the point of the whole exercise. There was no "real" drama, no serious attempt at addressing "real" issues and therefore, it was a waste of time.

So I said to him: Omigod, what are you talking about? You don't mean to say you want to compare this fluffy, thigh-slapping, senseless comedy with those arty-farty. Brooding, abstract existentialist dramas that only make sense if you're acting in it? Oh, get over it. Cats was confusing enough. At least no one died in Charley's Auntie! so you don't walk out of the theatre feeling like you just paid to attend a funeral.

Another friend, who knew most of the actors in it, asked me how it all went. The question was harmless enough. It was the way he asked me, his voice loaded with double entendres and inflection seething with sarcasm.

I said: it was a sitcom. You go there, you sit down, you watch the play, you laugh and cringe at the appropriate moments, then you go to the washroom during intermission and when it's over, you clap and try to corner one of the actors (who might be a friend) and say, "It's oh so marvelous, darling! Absolutely fabulous! You were the best thing in it, I swear!" If you delivered your lines well enough, you might get a lift back home with one of them. Needless to say, I wasn't as lucky.

My other friends, who are all intensely topical and well-versed in the fine art of parody and irony, kept quiet. I didn't have much to say myself so the topic drifted on to other things, namely who among them appeared in the latest issue of a local magazine that shall remain unnamed. (Very classy "in" crowd, you see. Don't really wanna mess around with these art mafia types, if you know what I mean.)

The way I see it, Charley's Auntie! is a pleasant, polite way to spend the evening. You can have dinner or drinks before or after the play. You can wear your best duds and not look out of place. It's one of those plays meant to be nothing more than what it is: tried and tested, value for money, comic relief.

You've seen it before, you know how it goes and it wouldn't hurt to see it again every couple of years. It's also a good vehicle for local actors. It's the type of skit that they can invite their yuppie friends to without the risk of having any of them feeling left out of the whole theatrical discourse afterwards.

That doesn't mean the whole exertion of mirth has been insubstantial. There is a moral to this story: Don't always take the short cut to the truth. Often, it's the cross-dresser who holds out who gets all the fun.

(Additionally: Those who have too many questions can go stare at paintings and pick their noses. Or go shopping for deep books and have conversations with mirrors. We love cheap laughs, don't we? Oh yes, we do.