A Brief Affair with Infinity (Little Red Shop & The Arts House)
22nd March 2007
The Arts House
By Koh Xin Tian
24 March 2007
Stemming from a personal and arresting short story written by the playwright and solo actress Jocelyn Chua, Little Red Shop’s monologue A Brief Affair with Infinity traces the trajectory of a young student’s love affair with her married Mathematics teacher. The language of geometry and fairytales gracefully sweeps into the girl’s account of the liaison which her schoolgirl crush hurtles into, only to coagulate into the disappointment of reality. Chua is also a former Theatreworks commissioned playwright, a director, award-winning writer, and no stranger to local theatre.
Her timing and switches between the childishly cloying speech of the girl and her retrospective voice are smoothly executed, as she convincingly plays the nymphet who extends her wiles to her Humbert, the princess tripping across fairytales who “offered the apple and…also bit into it”, both victim and perpetrator of a fruitless amour. Her obsession is likened to the religiousness which Pythagoras’ disciples attached to mathematics and used to guard his embarrassing discovery of an irrational number, the exasperating square root of two that eludes delineation. Fully aware of the irreconcilability of her positions as her teacher’s student and lover, she eventually refuses this burden of the infinite and offers her lover a passion measurable by the spoonful, in the form of an apple pie with precisely mixed ingredients. His anger when she accidentally knocks over his wife’s Thinker sculpture prompts a Blake poem to come back to her, a reminder of the unreachability and rapaciousness of his nature: “What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
The spare props, consisting of only a white chair and red scarf, combine effectively with the clear simplicity of Loo Zihan’s lighting as well. Together they convey the presence of the teacher which the girl threads together with idyllic fantasies as she twists and moves the scarf around in a quiet dance, and a path of light beams reveals the distance between the student’s and her lover’s worlds, the disparity between chimerical daydreams and the reality of his final rejection and his wife, which she has to navigate.
The turning point: her rendezvous with her teacher at a Chinatown restaurant, with décor and atmosphere catering to Oriental fetishes, where food for expatriate taste buds is served. Every brush of feet and touch of cutlery tantalises (“desire was ready to tuck us in, just as we were ready to tuck into desire”), but the setting places the teacher’s view of her and the reality of their differences in drastic relief. However, such opportunities to evocatively shed light on a girl’s path towards womanhood through their forbidden relationship were skirted in favour of “telling the story of a young mathematics student trying to come to grips with an ‘irrational’ love”, in director Ruby Pan’s words on the message which was more important to Chua. Its enthusiasm inadvertently translates into occasional excess when the girl whimsically indulges in rapture over her lover. This is perhaps a result of the loss in translation of a short story into a play; intensities shift from text to stage, and heady endearments can peter out into triteness.
Lines like “I rolled myself into a ball, tossed it into the depths of your well, well of your depths” similarly disclose little beyond the familiar obsession and immediacy of a teenage crush; but does art have a responsibility to reflect political or cultural issues after all? A Brief Affair with Infinity was a refreshing voyage away from overly ruminative and critical productions, and the palpable effervescence in Chua’s prose is an appetiser to future offerings worth looking forward to.
– end –
Koh Xin Tian is an English Literature undergraduate at NUS, where she writes for student magazine The Ridge and is the publicity executive for the NUS Literary Society.