Sarah Koh and Vanessa Shiao present some thorny truths in their dystopian universe of No Questions Asked, the latest piece of student writing at The Barron. In this harrowing drama directed by Manaal Mahjoub, journalist Beatrix is forced to turn detective when she discovers a murder has taken place in a supposedly crimeless society. Lily, a complete stranger, arrives at her door with questions about her missing sister, whose rich, well-connected boss has been acting very strangely. Their search for answers leads them into a dangerous and troubling world of political corruption with shocking consequences for all.
Koh and Shiao’s alternative reality provided intriguing food for thought. Here, money does not exist and society instead functions through EDIS, a system whereby people are assigned a tier dependent on their contributions to society. Koh and Shiao’s writing cleverly peeled away the layers of concealment to comment on issues of today. What happens to those who contribute less for reasons outside of their control, such as illness or disability? Why are women automatically assigned a lower tier than their male counterparts? These gradual twists and turns in the plot were intriguing, but the play’s dialogue lacked a similar steadiness. Moments of anger and frustration came in the form of sudden outbursts rather than build ups, which sadly lessened their emotional weight.
Annabel Ekelund gave an excellent performance as Beatrix. Her character’s passionate and relentless pursuit of a cause she believed in shone through with an energy that never halted. Yue Jen Leong touchingly conveyed Lily’s fiery and aggressive frustrations against a brutal situation. Her character seemed lost, yet endlessly driven. Sadly, not all the roles were quite as polished. One example of this was Beatrix’s mum, played by Zara Curtis, who was frustratingly underdeveloped. Her lines seemed banal and empty, leaving the character’s only real purpose to enter and exit with others.
The stage was filled nicely with props and furniture to never seem bare or empty and a green lighting wash created an unnerving sense of suspicion and secrecy. Since No Questions Asked had the potential to be such a powerful performance, it was painfully disappointing that the action was interrupted by so many blackout scene changes. Perhaps these could have been covered with music, but it seemed more likely that the writing needed more attention toward the logistics of performance, since each change of scenery seemed to require a completely different set up to the one before. This allowed the episodic nature of the script to dampen its momentum and suspense. Towards the end of the show, scenes began to take the form of a split stage, which was much more efficient. I only wish this had been started sooner.
The concept behind No Questions Asked was intelligent and insightful, which resulted in a believable yet uncomfortable scenario for the show. However, closer thought into practicalities of staging was required for the message to carry its full power.
STARS: * *
Carla van der Sluijs