Christopher Ling has good taste in scripts. His credits boast shows that are intelligent, questioning and quite daring. They do not fall into what we euphemistically call the accessible canon, and Mr. Ling is pretty hip to the exciting new theatre out there — I don’t think there’s been a LaChiusa musical staged even in Singapore. In line with the rest of his plays, Ruby Moon has an excellent script.

Ruby Moon poster

Ruby Moon

It is a highly stylised exploration of grief and loss as experienced by Ray and Sylvie Moon, who are trying to cope with the disappearance of their child Ruby. They continue to live in the same house, hoping she might return and immersing themselves in rituals they’ve created to keep their daughter in their thoughts. They cycle through repeating the facts of the case, long gone cold, and sometimes pretend that a child-sized mannequin is Ruby. When packages containing doll-parts turn up, they begin talking to their neighbours to attempt a new investigation. The multiple roles were played by Davina Goh and Alex Chua, and Onn San contributed a beautiful soundscape and music.

Evidently from interviews, the cast and director spent a lot of time thinking about the issues and nuances, getting to a good understanding about them.

Heightened, dense text dealing with painful subjects played by a cast of two — not easy. Presenting this here where we stereotype our audiences as unappreciative of such plays is also bold. Evidently from interviews, the cast and director spent a lot of time thinking about the issues and nuances, getting to a good understanding about them. However, the result as executed could not live up to that understanding.

These are some of the merely irksome things: Sylvie and Ray had distracting accents and “actor voices”. Choices for the external characters were hit-and-miss; for example, Goh had an over-the-top quality that worked very well for the singing, drinking vixen but less so for the judgmental, evangelical old lady. There were no real advantages taken with staging it in the round, so it didn’t add anything to the play. It meant that quite a few important moments were blocked and replaced by a close, well-lit view of the fidgeting audience on all sides. Set changes made by actors forced them to be out of character and dulled the flow.

The largest problem was that the action was not consistently engaging. It led to an odd state of mind where one wanted to know what would happen next but found it hard to pay attention. There were no cohesive statements made about the subject matter — the fact that the text was ambiguous means it was actually more important for each facet of the relationships and situations to be thoroughly fleshed out. It’s hard to see what they were really saying about loss, belonging, parenting and so forth.

The summary is this: this play is more difficult than this team is equipped for.

The summary is this: this play is more difficult than this team is equipped for.

Take Davina Goh, who is a personality with quite a following. She clearly has art in her soul and a special quality that appeals to many. What she doesn’t have is training, so a fair chunk of her work seems like her outgoing self more than the character. Audiences do respond to this but often it doesn’t serve the story. It is important to note here that these practices ostensibly are not borne of insecurity or a desire to impose her personality onto other people, nor are they competitive — there is no diva energy coming from Ms. Goh, which you might not say about other similar performers.

Both actors were freer and more exploratory when playing the neighbors than when playing Ray and Sylvie. This seems intuitive as they are all a bit zany and of course the couple are more reserved on the outside, but the actors also seemed reserved inside during those scenes when it was even more crucial for them to be really present and playing.

There were nice moments — particularly one where the final package with the doll’s head is opened and rather than being defeated, the couple is glad to be able to assemble the doll. It is like a moment of closure that is objectively false but still truthful. And the twist was quite surprising and gave context to the neighbors’ very varied accents.

There are some common things that kill shows, but many of them were not present here. They are misunderstood texts, very inexperienced actors and directors, indulgence and generally low standards. People don’t or don’t know how to try hard enough, and these people tried hard enough. They were not ungenerous, they applied some craft and they did find a few rewards, but there really needs to be more than just a few.

It’s symptomatic of a theatre scene that is dwindling because too many skilled practitioners have stepped out (often for monetary reasons) leaving a population of young people with almost no guidance but each other.

The nice moments, the selection of the text and the effort that was put in indicate potential and a big desire to make good theatre. It is a shame that with almost no older heavy-hitters to be mentors of quality, it will be an uphill battle for Mr Ling and others like him to improve enough to achieve what we all want.

cheryl-tanCheryl Tan studied Music and Theatre at Wesleyan University. She is a jazz vocalist, actor and teacher.