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Review of Machine, a Fifth Wall production
review Theodore Lai
A couch, a table and several lamps line the makeshift stage converted from the first floor common lounge. A lone washing machine sits in the corner of the room. Old Chinese tunes play on a radio as warm, comfortable lighting illuminates the set, creating a tranquil feel of home. But this cozy environment did little to prepare the audience for Machine’s dramatic exploration of consumerist romantic culture.
The production, directed by Abdul Hamid ’17, and performed by members of The Fifth Wall, tells the story of Lina, a self-made career woman, and her reclusive roommate Kim. Their broken washing machine leads to the hiring of Dani and Jo, a pair of freelance repairmen. Sparks fly as the hapless women fall for their hired handymen, and an unrestrained intimacy soon follows between the characters.
The modest setup focused all attention on the poignant performances by the stellar cast of four, giving the production a unique charm often missing from the complicated constructions of more well-endowed plays. Machine’s greatest strengths were found in the dynamic between the troubled women and the men. Lina, the hard-bitten career woman played by Baoyun Cheo ’17, clicked seamlessly with the flamboyant and charming Dani, played by Dynn Othman ’18. Kim, the withdrawn and traumatized damsel played by Annette Wu ’17, found comfort in the accepting arms of Jo, played by Ziyad Bagharib ’18.
Their deceptively sweet romance soon gave way to a dangerous predator-prey game that grew more intense as the characters developed. Cheo’s emotive performance illustrated the frustrations of understanding another person, and Bagharib brought depth to the play with his complex characterization of the two-faced Jo. Wu’s portrayal of risque sexuality complemented Othman’s expressive rendition of the manipulative player trope. The audience participated vicariously in the heated exchanges between the characters and grew to anticipate the next snide remark from Dani and the quiet, whimpering response from Kim.
Wonderfully performed, Machine captured the deep, personal issue of wayward love that we all know too well, delivering a production that is at times witty and clever, and also profound and true. The play’s powerful message emerges through a frighteningly accurate evaluation of the contemporary romantic scene, speaking to our own fears and experiences of a poisonous dating culture. As Dani laments sadly: “We all play the game”.