July 2015 | Hong Kong Repertory Theatre Black Box
I didn’t expect it to be a comedy…
“Alone” is a beautiful production, which magically and organically transformed the HK Rep Black Box Theatre into a… I was about to say “brain,” because of its impressive spectacle, which was also throbbing with freshness and blood. The two actors were enough to occupy the whole stage with their virtuosity and energy, combined with masterful ease. A bare stage, minimal props; but with the wonderfully executed pacing, the one and half hours’ running time seemed to pass without my noticing.
All the tension (a comfortable tension, such as during stretching or yawning) was formed through dichotomies: the pair of a heterosexual man and woman, pinkish purple versus milky yellow lighting, the bright plateau of the stage against the dark abyss of the audience, and simplicity of set design combined with complexity of visual effects. The two individuals are clearly established through their immediately antagonistic yet mutually stimulating lines. Half way through the show, “the man” pointed out that in this vacuum-world of the two of them, the meaning of their being exists only in the relationship of a dichotomy: ‘I cannot be the man without you the woman,’ and vice versa. Wong Ching Yan, the actor playing “the woman” and also the costume designer, captured accurately the paradox of the very existence of these two characters: they are completely naked, without any information about their identities, while at the same time they have the basic desires of social animals; desire for relationship, for autonomy and its byproducts, such as self realization. To illustrate this they wore skin-coloured costumes, in the style of our contemporary gender conventions (the man in suit and the woman in dress,) which merged and glowed with their bodies in the stage lights.
The plot is driven by the characters characteristics, and these seemed to be the only thing left for the two of them: even the seemingly sudden changes of props (a gun, to a banana, and then to a book) were due to the choices made based on their character. Such jumps and unpredictability not only produced comic effect, but also created a backdrop to the plot that the playwright and “the man” Yau Ting Fai was hinting at: so-called “fate,” a force beyond characters, beyond human autonomy/free will, the power of the Creation. More interesting was not how the two characters learned to experiment with this force and they finally managed to exert their own autonomy to choose and change their assigned situation, but how this force was internalized into the two characters. Towards the end, when they had almost created their ideal reality (many of the words in this sentence actually need quotation marks,) they were still basing themselves on the personal information imposed on them with dubious origin. More ironically, no sooner had they woven this “reality,” than they once again fell into the same situation, back to the very beginning, forever trapped in this circular hole (the “lone” in the Chinese name). I was amazed at how this inherent dilemma of our epistemology was presented with such ease and comedy by this production. I was also amazed by the talent of the two actors – they didn’t give me any chance to be distracted.
When it was first put on stage, the production was under the name of “O”. This time, on top of all the implication of this symbol, “Alone” fits the strong presence of characters, which evoke sympathy from the audience as human beings suffering from similar philosophical complications. Dichotomies and paradoxes — perhaps we are all animals trapped in meanings and languages.