Arts Review – Women of Asia

Gender topics can be complex, daunting and not a typical fodder for dinner conversations. And in Asian societies, the role of woman is especially a smorgasbord of cultural differences and nuances, formed and shaped by traditional beliefs.

In a recent play Women of Asia staged at Lasalle by playwright Asa Gim Palomera, such complex issues are manifested on stage with the intention of destroying stereotypes of Asian women and challenging our preconceived notions of the role of women in Asia.

A series of 7 acts is performed by a largely unknown cast – save for a few familiar faces – and based on real stories about women. Perhaps the unknown cast adds a sense of realism to the mise en scène, and to create an unfamiliarity with the characters who can easily passed off as a stranger we meet on the street, completely unaware of their stories and struggles.

The very first line of the prologue (“We are the myth”) narrated by stage thespian Nora Samosir nicely set up a theme that resonates throughout the 90-minute play – the ambiguity of the role of women.

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Palomera has done a great job capturing the cruel reality faced by women. In the act, “Indian Dowry”, Nora Samosir, Nadia Rahman, Deborah Lee, Charis Ng and Andrea Singco showed enough anguish in their performances to portray the shockingly harsh treatment faced by Indian women in their marriages.

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In fact, such harsh reality permeates the play to the point of morbidity. A Japanese housewife drowns her children as an ultimatum to her trapped existence. Indian women are made to feel inferior by their own families. A sex worker dies tragically overseas away from her home. Does anyone get the feeling that death seems to be the best escape for these women?

Contrast this with the act “Madame Butterfly”, played to perfection by seasoned actress Koh Chieng Mun (Under One Roof), who returns to theater after a 9-year hiatus due to breast and kidney cancer. Here, she questions the status of the woman protagonist in the original opera by Giacomo Puccini, before playing out her own version of the ending, where the woman kills her lover and not herself. After all, he probably deserves it more than her.

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Despite the sobriety, some monologues are peppered with humor especially when portraying a current topic close to our hearts – cross-cultural marriages. In “Prisoner of Soy Sauce”, a man complains about having to eat Asian food daily and terms himself as a prisoner of said sauce.

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And as the epilogue approaches, the audience is reminded of the exploration of women’s role once again. Can the women characters escape their fate? Can the women we know in our societies escape the harsh and painful reality? A poignant line from the epilogue lingers – “The beginning is the ending, and the ending is endless”.


Rating: 4/5
Language: English
Duration: 90 minutes
Rated R18 for mature themes
Cast: Koh Chieng Mun, Nora Samosir, Deborah Lee, Charis Ng, Nadia Abdul Rahman, Kimberly Chan, Andrea Singco, Ching Shu Yi, Benedict Hew, Benjamin Chow

Photos Courtesy of GenerAsia