Checkpoint Theatre’s For Better or For Worse played at the Drama Centre Black Box from the 20th to the 24th of March 2013.
Written by Faith Ng, this play traces the ups and downs of the bittersweet, love-hate marriage of middle-aged couple Gerald (Julius Foo) and Swen (Jean Ng) who take us on their journey from early courtship, to an overseas stint, then onto \ parenthood, a miscarriage, and eventually Gerald’s retrenchment that reveals a troubled marriage.
At first what is portrayed as a marriage full of daily annoyances and irritations, as seen in Gerald’s tight hold on money and Swen’s obsession with her dog Cutey (Que Que), turns midway to reveal a marriage whose pain and loss go a lot deeper than mere marriage frustrations.
As the story unfolds, we are exposed to Gerald’s affairs with women from China, and to his indirectly causing the death of his unborn second child. Swen is no angel either, and it is soon disclosed that she has a gambling problem and possibly a spending problem too, and has no issues with manipulating her husband’s emotions to get money to settle her gambling debts.
At times, these parts of the play that address a marriage that is ugly and full of warts were hard to watch, especially with Gerald cussing so profusely at Swen. Swen, on the other hand, doesn’t lash out at her husband for his mistakes with quite as much vengeance and malice. However, this is usually the case in most relationships, isn’t it? One partner is the more impatient one, the more unreasonable one, the more abusive one whilst the other partner is the more docile one, the more nonchalant one, the more tolerant one.
Such is the case here between Gerald and Swen, because even the weights of their wrongdoings against one another don’t match up. Whilst Swen has a gambling problem leading to her deceiving her husband, Gerald has affairs and causes her, albeit unintentionally, to lose her baby. In anyone’s eyes, Gerald is the obvious and bigger wrongdoer. But once again I find myself asking, isn’t that also usually the case in most relationships? Mistakes don’t always measure up equally on both sides.
Yet, through the pain and hateful behaviours, this couple plods on, accepting each other and wanting to keep up the vows they solemnly took once. Is that wise when the relationship is so bitter and causing anger and frustration to both parties? Do vows mean staying together no matter how you’ve been abused (emotionally and mentally) by your partner? Ng’s script makes you think about these things, for the marriage she paints here is not one where there seems to be redemption or even real forgiveness, but rather a mentality of “sweeping under the rug” and moving on for the sake of the marriage is evident in both Gerald and Swen. Some call that acceptance. Some call that denial. Some call that a marriage.
Directed by Claire Wong, this two-person play made good use of the small space as well as necessary props and wardrobe changes to bring to life a relationship spanning years. The two actors created, developed and handled their characters’ evolution amiably, making the audience roar with laughter at the funny moments and at the same time feel their pain at the sadder points of the story.
One minor flaw was the lack of subtitles during the scenes when Gerald interacted with his mother. There was no discerning what the communication was about from Gerald’s gestures or body language, and whilst it was later revealed that his mother confessed to Gerald something she did to Swen years ago, most of those scenes weren’t understood by those who didn’t speak that Chinese dialect.
All in all, For Better or For Worse is about a marriage that wasn’t balanced, fair, or beautiful. Cracked, bitter, and unresolved, this marriage I fear may be the reality for many people, caught between a bad marriage and the importance of vows taken when things were once so sweet and full of love. Do you stay, or do you go? Like Ng’s story, like the characters Gerald and Swen, and like everything else in life – there is no right answer.