Brown Boys Don't Tell Jokes

by Myle Yan Tay
Checkpoint Theatre
Drama Centre Black Box, Singapore

What does it mean to be a brown boy in Singapore? After nearly four decades, I'm still not sure I have an answer but Myle Yan Tay certainly does in this astonishing new play, presented by Checkpoint Theatre and directed by Huzir Sulaiman. 

Five friends from different walks of life (an artist, activist, academic, therapist and politician) reunite after years on the eve of an election. Over the course of an explosive evening, old wounds and new tensions are unearthed, culminating in a moral dilemma that threatens to tear the group apart. 

It's a play that benefits not just from pitch-perfect performances from its cast but taut, sensitive direction and incisive dramaturgy, keeping its audience utterly rapt throughout its two-hour run. One feels that not a line is wasted, each scene essential in building the narrative. 

And what a narrative it is! A deep dive into the messy realities of race relations, the complexities of male friendship, the idea of shoehorning oneself to fit an idealised version that society will accept. These are characters who may be united by the colour of their skins but as the play takes pains to establish, they are so much more than that - authentic, full-blooded individuals who deserve to be seen and heard on their own terms. 

Hilarious and tender, urgent and compelling, this is the sort of play that should be taught in schools, an instant classic of the Singapore stage that demands readings and restagings. I'm already hoping the text gets published in a future edition of Checkpoint's New Singapore Plays. 

It's completely sold out for the remainder of its run so you're lucky if you got tickets. Kudos to all the brilliant brown boys involved.

The Crystalwords score: 4/5


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