My Mother Buys Condoms, written by Helmi Yusof, is part of Wild Rice’s Theatre Festival this year and will run at Lasalle College of the Arts’ Creative Cube from the 14th to 24th of July 2016.
This comedic play focuses on 63 year old retiree Maggie (Lok Meng Chue) who gives tuition at home and has recently separated from a cheating husband. She is financially helped by her children Wilfred (Joshua Lim) and Gwen (Seong Hui Xuan), whom Maggie wishes would visit her more often. Together with her fellow-retiree teacher, close friend and neighbour Nora (Elnie S. Mashari), Maggie lives a nice and comfortable albeit lonely life. So when a visiting air-conditioner repairman Raju (Remesh Panicker) makes arrangements with the retired literature teacher Maggie to teach him how to read and write in English, sparks fly, romance blossoms, and eventually sex occurs – but not if Wilford has anything to say about it.
When the relationship comes to light, it is only Gwen who stands by her mother’s love and newly revived sexuality. Gwen herself is a closeted lesbian, who has been in a relationship with her female housemate since she was 16 years old. Meanwhile, Nora feels that Maggie’s relationship is disgusting because not only is she having sex outside a marriage, but also because Raju has visited prostitutes previously – and incidentally thereby making it imperative for the couple to use condoms for protection – which also explains the title when Wilford finds this out.
Yusof does a good job in presenting all sides of the story, without making it preachy; he leaves it to the audience to decide on which side they stand. On one hand you have Maggie who is having a sexual awakening and is in love. In one scene Maggie even tells Nora she’s never had such powerful orgasms before and implies that her new man is rather well proportioned too. It’s rare to see women above a certain age claim this sort of sexual excitement, and it’s refreshing to see this here.
However, on the other hand, you also have Nora and Wilfred who argue that a woman past a certain age should not be experimenting with sexuality, as she ought to have grown up by now, as Nora chides her friend. This isn’t an easy point to support in this day and age where people are routinely encouraged not to hold back from aiming for something just because of a small matter like age. However, because Raju has a sexual past the includes paying strangers for sex, Yusof makes it easier to understand Nora’s and Wilford’s point about his sexual past being a moral issue.
In the end, whether you agree with either side or both sides or none of the argument, Gwen probably summarises it best when she tells her mother that as long as people are different, there will be people who are against their behaviour and will want to tear them down. Morality is a difficult thing for everyone to agree upon. There is no right or wrong answer; there is no black and white here. We all decide for ourselves in the end – and we have to learn to accept (and continue to love) when others decide differently. That is the important message behind this play.
The acting is good, and the set is very eye-catching as it looks exactly like an HDB flat – complete with a working tap!
Overall, the dialogue is quite funny but could use a little more humour, and there is no need for the predictable and tired plot point of Gwen being a lesbian, as if one needs to be on the fringes of society in order to support a mother’s freedom to love and have sex.
Having said that, My Mother Buys Condoms still offers a unique viewpoint of senior citizens continuing to live, even if that means rediscovering the joys of sex.