13 September 2009

Water | Time

Written by Shogo Tanikawa and directed by Bhanbassa Dhubthien, Water | Time is currently being restaged due to popular demand. There are only three actors in this play: Sasithorn Panichnok, Shogo himself, and Apirak Chaipanha. Yet the audience were riveted to their seats for one hour and a half, mesmerised by the bittersweet relationship between Nam and Kenji, and A, a friend who tries to help this couple.

The problem is somehow commonplace: Kenji is an unhappy Japanese playwright, somewhat pressured by his previous works, while Nam (a Thai word for 'water') is a sweet Thai girl who is in love with Kenji. However, things are not as sweet as they expect, as Kenji finds his creativity blocked and cannot finish his latest script. Nam becomes the breadwinner and their love is understandably put on a strain. Their communication is somehow made more difficult by the languages they speak: both of them need to talk in English, a language to which neither of them are native. Frustration appears, as we can see that sometimes both Nam and Kenji resort to their native language to reveal their emotion and anxiety.

I think the play portrays to great effect the problems we face nowadays. Love in the city is indeed very difficult, but love between people from two different nationalities are even more difficult. The sad thing is we don't find these two characters -- Nam and Kenji -- evil or corrupt: they are good-intentioned, very much in love with each other, but somehow the urban society they live in requires too much from them. This can be seen in Kenji's stress, as he wishes to write better works, to achieve both financial and intellectual recognition at the same time.

However, what remains puzzling to most viewers is probably the climax scene when Kenji is preparing rice balls to Nam. I think the script could be improved if more hints are put as to what really happens to both characters. I understand that the playwright doesn't want to reveal too soon what really happens until right at the very end. But the hints are too few. If someone misses those hints, a lot of meaning will be lost.

But perhaps that's also the beauty of this play. Attention is needed if one wishes to understand. Attention is also needed in terms of time. Time is fluid and plays a crucial role in our imagination. Nam consciously dreams of the yonder days when her love with Kenji blossomed. Kenji, however, dreams of the future when Nam and he will visit the Fuji together. And of course the last scene when time is also a crucial factor for our understanding of the play, when the past becomes the present and vice versa. Time is indeed subjective.

I need to confess that I was myself puzzled a little bit right after the play, but the more I think about it, the more I want to see it again, at least to fill in missing gaps and ruptures. But somehow these are not meant to be filled.
Just like some moments in real relationships, these gaps and untranslated bits cannot be translated but can only be felt and imagined.

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