Everything but the Brain – A Review

What do Physics, three bears and a stroke have in common?  Jean Tay’s play is about Elaine, a middle-aged Physics teacher who wishes to turn time back to save her sick father from disease and death.  She hopes to exploit the theory of relativity to slow time so that she can spend more time with her father, who has precisely 10 months and 29 days left, as mentioned at the beginning of the play. This creates a sense of urgency, as Elaine needs to find a solution fast or lose the only person she has ever loved forever.

This story about the love and desperation of a daughter to save her father struck a cord with me because I lost my father to a stroke recently as well. It reminded me of the unappreciated challenges that a caregiver faces and the unconditional love that makes it all possible. It also poignantly brought out the effects of aging and a stroke that leads to depression, helplessness and vulnerability of a once perfectly proud and capable individual.

Jean Tay handles the notion that time and timelessness occur concurrently with great mastery. One wonders if time can actually be stopped or slowed down so that death can be either delayed or avoided. A three-member chorus in the play also provides the audience with vital information and a constant reminder of the passing of time in the play. Though the play is about disease and death, through the element of a fairy tale, Jean Tay skillfully perpetuates a sense of ‘happily ever after’ at the end of the play. Essentially the play leaves one with thoughts about love and the emotional struggles that exist in family relationships.

Read more about the play in this Q&A with Jean Tay.

Jean Tay graduated in 1997 with a double-degree in creative writing and economics from Brown University, USA. For her fiction, she was awarded Weston Prize for Fiction from Brown, as well as the 1st and 3rd prizes for NAC’s Golden Point Short Story competition in 1995 and 2001 respectively. Her plays have been produced in festivals in the US and in Singapore. This play by one of our own local playwright is a must read.  It won her Best Original Script, Straits Times’ Life Theatre Award in 2006.  Other plays include ‘The Knot’ (1999), ‘Plunge’ (2000) and ‘Boom’ (2008). The Ministry of Education has selected the play ‘Boom’ as a recommended ‘O’ and ‘N’ level literature text.

Reviewed by Raspal Dhillon

The play is available from EPIGRAM BOOKS and NLB (Call Number: English SING S822 TAY)

Directed by Derrick Chew, ANYTHING BUT THE BRAIN will be showing at DBS Arts Centre from 10 to 21 August 2013. Tickets available from SISTIC.

“Jean’s adroit handling of themes, from the origins of genius to gene heritage and tyranny of Time, makes ‘Everything but the brain’ one of the best things seen on stage here in a while.” – The Straits Times

“One of the more thoughtfully constructed original shows to come out of Singapore in recent times.” – The Business Times

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