Emily of Emerald Hill (play review)

Tonight I ventured into the local theater scene for the first time.  I’m not sure what I was waiting for–I had hoped for it to be a joint experience with Ravi, I suppose. I had proposed seeing other shows, but he’d declined and I felt awkward just throwing our money around for me to go to the theater alone.  When I shared that with Ravi, he told me what he thought was reasonable..that I could/should feel free to buy tickets to two shows a month and to ask him if he’d like to join me if I thought the show would appeal to him.  Sounded fair to me.

So with that in mind, I headed to Sistic and bought a bunch of theater tickets.  Tonight I saw Emily of Emerald Hill, a Wild Rice production.

Wild Rice is a local theater troupe, and they’d had several shows I’d wanted to see earlier in the year (a production of Boeing Boeing, and a reinterpretation called Cinderell-lah) but hadn’t.  So their last show of the season sounded like a good starting place.

I knew that the main character was a Peranaken Woman and that the play largely took place in the 1950’s.  Other than that, I walked in with no prior knowledge or expectations.

I hadn’t expected a one-person show.  Initially I was bothered by it, but as the show progressed, I realized that the effect allowed it to basically be a living memoir.  Emily primarily takes place in the 50’s, but she flashes back to being a child, being a young bride and daughter in law, and then flashes forward to her elder years at the end.

Emily is quite the tragic figure…while she rises to prominence and some power/prestige, she is isolated from her husband, and her desire for the “right” life drives her eldest son to suicide.

As with every story, her life also has humor woven into it.  Some of the funniest moments are when she breaks the fourth wall and interacts with the audience, mostly as if they’re servants or other players in her life.   The humor often didn’t necessarily make sense to me, either because it was a turn of phrase in a language I didn’t know-possibly Malay or Mandarin (or a Singlish expression I didn’t understand), or because I didn’t have enough context.

Emily is performed by Ivan Heng in drag, which I found quite interesting in and of itself.  Singapore has a strange relationship with gender and gender roles, so having a male play a female lead seemed like an unusual choice. (Although there certainly is precendent in Asian theatrical tradition…perhaps a nod to that?).

While not for everyone, if you have an interest in Peranakan culture, like memoirs and like plays, this may be the play for you.  You’ll have to hurry though…only 3 shows left–Friday night, and two shows on Saturday (March 12).

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8 Responses to Emily of Emerald Hill (play review)

  1. Maria says:

    Wild Rice is a fabulous troupe. We saw Cinderell-Lah years ago and I’m still laughing.

  2. kirsten says:

    I can’t believe I am going to miss Emily of Emerald Hill. Again. They do it very often, and I have never gone. Terrible! *smacks self*

  3. bookjunkie says:

    I am sad to miss it. If I had enough $ I would watch almost every single play, musical and concert.

    I heard there were real fire crackers lit up during the show.

    Yes I can imagine some of the expressions and references must have been lost in translation.

    • Crystal says:

      When I lived in NYC, I worked for a Broadway ticket discounter. I saw so much theater that year. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even though my bank account (and homework for grad school) was very displeased with me. I’ve really fallen off the wagon since Elanor. Going out to a show means missing bedtime, which I hate doing (even though, or perhaps especially because I regularly miss bedtime on date night).

      • bookjunkie says:

        wow what a dream job!! 🙂

      • Crystal says:

        Sounds more exciting than it was. I sat in a small office and fought with ticketmaster (think sistic) all day for not much more than minimum wage. I did, however, learn a lot about where to sit for what type of show and how to evaluate a seating chart to ensure good seats, which is pretty invaluable. Although it does make me insufferable if you want to see a show with me…many friends have just said “you pick the seats I’ll give you the money” because they know I’m a huge brat about it. To be fair, though, if I lived in New York, I’d subscribe to the website I worked for as a customer to get the discount codes…


        They were pretty awesome, and the owner was a nice guy. Not sure if he still owns it…that was back in 2002.

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