By Isaac Lim
(468 words, 4 minute read)
A woman’s place is in the kitchen. Or is it? Israeli theatre-maker Emanuella Amichai’s The Neighbor’s Grief is Greener attempts to quell all notions of the ideal woman we know from 1950s American pop culture. It all gets pretty bloody.
Set in a pristine home, a Stepford Wife-ish woman is adding ingredients into a large mixing bowl. She stirs everything together, but instead of transferring the mixture into a cake tin, she artfully pours out the blood-red contents onto the floor. She lies at a corner of the crimson puddle, arms stretched, turning cake mix into blood flowing from a slit wrist. Two other women strike ‘dying’ poses around the stage.
We learn about these women through disparate episodes, many of which employ 1950s American popular culture symbols. Through watching the ideal women of that era, we are forced to question how much has changed in the 21st century. The women each represents different types of ‘the female’ propagated by mass media. There’s the proper and perfect wife, the bold, sexy and coquettish one, and the shy and awkward dreamer. A fourth woman has a bucket over her head, suggesting someone with her head in the sand, appearing solely as a sexually-objectified body. The lone supporting male comes in and out of scenes adding a murder-mystery vibe to the show. He presents at times as a detective trying to solve a puzzle, and at others, as the aggressor. Often a very violent one, trying to saw up women’s bodies.
Using snippets of radio recordings, television soundbites and pop songs of the era, this largely non-verbal show relies heavily on audience knowledge of the popular references to highlight the gender roles that straightjacket women. The sex-pot lip syncs to an interview of Marilyn Monroe, talking about her achievements as an actress, but ends up being silenced many times via the editing. Even after ‘Monroe’s’ last breath, the flash bulbs of the media continue to pop, offering up her inert body to be gazed at across the world.
In an MTV-like sequence, the man sizzles up with all four ladies, swaying to a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘It Was a Very Good Year’. The undertones of the man’s machismo and boastful sexual conquest over a trail of nameless unidentified women is heightened through intimate interactions of the performers.
Although the show is peppered with neatly pointed and often dark humor, the world created is heavily dependent on pop culture references from the era. People unfamiliar with the period, who lack the cultural capital to appreciate it, will likely leave the performance baffled by exactly what the references to I Love Lucy and The Sandman really signify in a show where archetypes and non-linear skits are a substitute for character and narrative. It gets pretty darned hot in this kitchen, but some may want to make an early exit.
The Neighbor’s Grief is Greener was directed by Emanuella Amichai and presented as part of M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. It ran from 23 to 24 January 2018 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. This review is based on the performance on 24th November 2017, 8pm.
Isaac Lim is a full-time daydreamer and most-of-the-time writer. He holds an Honours degree in Theatre Studies from NUS, is a copywriter, playwright, theatregoer. He likes the word ‘and’ because it brings about many possibilities, and can be found on IG through #ZacGoesToTheTheatre.
This review was written as part of the Lyn Gardner Theatre Criticism Training Program, An Initiative by the National Arts Council, managed by ArtsEquator.com.