By Sng Ler Jun
Over the weekend, Blue Bean Production has launched and concluded her inaugural play. “Dear Jay”, the brainchild of both Euginia Tan and Benedict Leong, explores the journey of how Leonard (Benedict Leong) struggles and copes with the death of his only friend Jay (Zenda Tan). “Dear Jay” weaves together a touchy theme, a taxing plot and a fresh cast of actors, turning it into a heartfelt and thought-provoking production.
When we talk about plays or stories with the theme of mental illness as one of its cores, we usually like to see them in a lighter shade. Mental illness is a touchy theme to dab on, probably because it is unseen yet so real. More often than not, we tend to see some form of closure and overcoming of a particular obstacle in such plays or stories. However, rather than exploring the process of conquering anxiety and death, “Dear Jay” elaborates on the struggle of people living with mental illness.
The chemistry between Zenda and Benedict stood out superbly. Their portrayal of “Jay” and “Leonard” was raw and real. (That said, I could not help but wince when Zenda fell and inadvertently hit her head on the floor in the scene when she physically struggled with her inner demons. I was in the second row when that happened.) Leonard and his confessions of feelings to Jay, even after her death, made the struggle with his own crippling anxiety and loneliness intimate. While Jay’s concern for Leonard, before her eventual suicide, was heart-warming.
I thought it was brilliant to showcase Jay’s and Leonard’s inner demons, played by the ensemble (Vivienne Wong, Juliana Kassim Chan, Darrell Chan, Nicholas Bloodworth and Adam Amil Sharif), who continuously repeats words of negativity – shame, hatred, self-doubts etc. I felt the play could use more of that and reduce Leonard’s monologue. Too much of it made it hard to catch. What ultimately stuck in my head was “So, it is a disease to be young.”
There were several other scenes that stood out as well.
One of it was the interaction between Jay and Leonard in the ward when Jay had returned from the councellor. Jay, who struggles with weight issues, had been asked to show how big she thought she was with a string. She later realised that she could “disappear” after Leonard measured it to be way smaller.
The other was the silence between Leonard and his father over the dining table. Leonard’s father’s outward show of affection by constantly picking food up for Leonard eventually builds up an invisible pressure within his son.
Overall, “Dear Jay” was not overtly pretentious, it is an honest production that speaks to the soul. Blue Bean Production did amazing for their inaugural play and I look forward to seeing more of her productions in time to come.
*Meanwhile, I thank a very special friend of mine – GILLIAN ONG – for having me and a friend over.