|Fine enactment of the tragic
tale of Emily
by Tripat Narayanan
(From Sunday Times 4/6/95)
Stella Kon's Emily of Emerald Hill, performed by Pearlly Chua and directed by Chin San Sooi at the Kapitan's Club in Kuala Lumpur recently, was one of the most moving stage performances I have seen.
While chronicling an era of Nyonya-Baba culture, the tragic tale of Emily of Emerald Hill is about the waste inherent in empty relationships.
It is amazing that so much of life can be compressed in two hours of drama. You get taken back and forth in the life and times of Emily who is abandoned by her mother as a "useless girl-child" at the age of 10 after her father dies.
Her destiny takes a new turn when she marries a widower twice her age. here, in this family of fortune, she learns to become a survivor through manipulation of human emotions and by fanning the vanity of the in-laws.
Thus she becomes the favourite daughter-in-law. In procuring position for her husband as the eldest born, she procures position for herself.
However, her chase for power and position consumes her so much so that her relationships with her husband and children remain sterile. She is stunned when her first-born and favourite son Richard commits suicide. Her husband leaves her for another woman, and on his deathbed, refuses to see her.
She finally realises the folly of her passion to order the lives of all around. She had become a one-dimensional monster who inadvertently pushed her husband and children to escape her. Thus, what she worked for mostly eluded her.
During the first half of the play. Chua's performance appeared to be caricatured and monotoned. But that's the very flaw of Emily's character, and up to this point, Chua's performance established that fact.
Halfway through, Chua evolves the character towards self-realisation. But even towards the end, Emily still wrestles with her habit to control.
Eventually, only loneliness and emptiness fill her as she is left sitting alone. She finally gives in and wishes to go to sleep.
It is difficult to decide at which point it is Chua's performance that moved or Stella Kon's lines that are profound. Each fed life into the other and together they presented powerful drama, well contained by the masterly direction of Chin San Sooi.
The monologue further provoked the audience into interacting with the performer. In the absence of respondent characters, the audience were drawn into live interaction with the performer in a very real way, filling in the gaps themselves.
You learn about Emily's life, her joys, her pain, her emptiness, her self-realisation and her finally release from herself as directly as if she were talking to you.
You get locked in a dialogue, so to speak, with Emily of Emerald Hill - after all, the propelling principle of drama is the dialectics of dialogue.
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