Tender Submission

by Lucas Ho
Checkpoint Theatre
Drama Centre Black Box, Singapore

If you're the sort of person who flips through your bedside Bible when you can't sleep at night or sends messages to your friends to pray for your dearly departed dog, then this play is probably for you. 

Tender Submission, written by Lucas Ho, co-directed by Huzir Sulaiman and Chen Yingxuan and presented by Checkpoint Theatre, is set in the highly specific milieu of an affluent city church, featuring a congregation who've known each other for decades and rarely break out of their closed social circles. We zoom in on two such individuals - middle-aged couple David and Catherine, who've been married for 30 years and devoted most of their life to the same church. 

The play's title comes from a tender that has been submitted to the congregation by a welfare group to develop a plot of land for more secular community programmes. As the couple sit in a toy-strewn cry room awaiting the result of the vote, it is revealed that each of them has a rather different view on what their church should be doing. 

This is not the first production of the company featuring religion and the rituals of faith. Both Zenda Tan's Eat Duck and Joel Tan's The Way We Go dealt with these themes in a nuanced and affecting way that drew audiences in, regardless of their spiritual persuasions. Here, one feels shut out and distanced from the action, the dialogue meandering between mundane cell group revelations and personal crises of faith. As the play progressed, I found myself caring less and less which way the all-important vote would swing. 

Petrina Dawn Tan's set is marked by clear frames that make us feel like spectators intruding into this private space. This only underscores the distance one feels from the characters. In such a naturalistic one-act play, Shah Tahir's sound design also feels decidedly heavy-handed. It runs for ninety minutes but ends up feeling twice as long. 

Photo Credit: Checkpoint Theatre, Joseph Nair

Real-life married couple Neo Swee Lin and Lim Kay Siu add a rich authenticity to the text, the buttoned-up, quietly progressive Catherine nicely contrasting with the relaxed yet far more traditional David. They are at once amiable and abrupt, interrupting one another, speaking in unison and fondly reminiscing the past as they pace the room, tidying things up but slowly unloading their emotional baggage. It's a beautiful portrait of a life lived together and a devotion that transcends words. 

I found myself remembering the time I was accosted by a classmate after an economics lecture who brightly asked if I was ready to "find Jesus". There are better ways to go about this.

The Crystalwords score: 2/5


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