Singapore Playwrights in New York

Three distinctive Singaporean plays will take to the stage for a reading at the iconic New York City venue of La Mama Theater. A Book By Its Cover (Damon Chua) is a hilarious yet pointed glimpse into two lives becoming intertwined, set against a world where it is no longer quite clear what it means to be Chinese. Poor Thing (written by Haresh Sharma, directed by Alvin Tan) grapples with the unique issue of road rage and what drives it in Singapore. The Weight of Silk on Skin (Huzir Salaiman) explores the politically incorrect subject matter of the upper-crust Singaporean and his wealth and privilege.

The playwrights will be present on the day, Thursday, September 17, 7:30 – 9:00 pm, for discussion after the readings. This is a chance not to be missed to engage with the foremost theater practitioners of Singapore. Part of the Singapore arts festival in New York, Something to Write Home About, the event is free and open to the public.

The playwrights, Damon Chua (DC), Haresh Sharma (Har) and Huzir Sulaiman (Huz), give their thoughts on the upcoming NY readings.


SP. Racial identity, road rage, and class privilege: heavy subjects. Where’s the entertainment?

DC. My play [A Book By Its Cover] is a comedy, and I’m sure it is not the only one. Whenever I have a “serious” message to convey, I often wrap it up with a comedic/high-spirited bow; sometimes so much so that the meaning is not apparent until later, when the viewer starts thinking about it. That is more than fine by me.

Har. Oh, but it’s all very entertaining. Don’t we all love clicking that play button whenever we come across a video of people fighting, road rage etc. In the case of Poor Thing, there’s also plenty of swearing, or rather, multilingual cursing.

Huz. We can’t forget the pleasures of language, of seeing life lived, of insights into the human condition. The deepest form of entertainment is to be taken on an emotional and intellectual journey, and I think that’s what we’re aiming for as playwrights.


SP. What is one scene or character from your play that may cause misunderstanding for Americans, and therefore needs explanation?

DC. Since I’m based in the States, I mainly write for an American audience, so this is a non-issue. Having said that, a pair of key characters [in A Book By Its Cover] is this married Chinese couple who lives in Guangzhou. Their relationship is informed by a very Chinese husband-wife dynamic, clearly distinct from an American one. While most people get it, it has surprised some.

Har. Some of the characters [in Poor Thing] code-switch between Singapore English and other local languages. American audiences might need translation but it shouldn’t be a problem as the characters’ emotional states are clear.

Huz. It might be important to point out that while historically the majority of plays in the Western canon have had privileged heterosexual males as their protagonists, Singapore theatre hasn’t really examined that class. My play [The Weight of Silk on Skin], I think, tries to offer both a celebration of John Au Yong’s sensual and fragile humanity and a critique of his worldview and environment — which in turn is both a celebration and critique of Singapore itself. I think that might be a useful bit of context.


SP. What is a line (or two) from the play that can serve as a tagline for it?

A Book By Its Cover:

PUI MUN: We’re not peasants.
 All right. Money-grubbing ex-communist peasants who are on their way to becoming middle class. Does that sound better?

Poor Thing:

“You judged me before you even spoke to me.”

The Weight of Silk on Skin:

“Sometimes the most exciting part of a marriage is the real estate.”




A Book By Its Cover. Photo credit: Grove Theater Center



Poor Thing. Photo Credit: The Necessary Stage



The Weight of Silk on Skin. Photo Credit: W!ld Rice



Damon Chua, playwright and director



Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan, The Necessary Stage



Claire Wong and Huzir Sulaiman, Checkpoint Theatre


About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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