“You cannot add more time to your life, but you can always add more life to your time.”
This is the final piece of whimsical advice in Vivian Chong’s The Sunglasses Monologue, streaming at Next Stage Festival’s Digital On-Demand Series. That’s technically a spoiler, but not in an emotional sense. It is the context of her journey that really gives this weight when you finally hear it.
Chong is a multi-disciplinary artist who has had to re-invent herself after losing her sight from a rare condition: Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome. Commanding the stage in gigantic star-shaped sunglasses and a ukulele, she tells her story, sings some songs and never loses her hold on the viewer.
This is a filmed and edited version of her stage performance. The production value is low and it isn’t very dynamic, just a handful of static wide shots of the stage. I’m not fond of this style of presentation as it feels so detached, capturing little of the visceral nuances of body language and audience response.
Though I do wish I had been able to see this in-person, her sprightly presence and the potency of her story still hit their mark. Her narrative fixates on the horror and trauma of a body’s betrayal, then the slow path to acceptance, healing and adaptation.
Her ukulele songs are quite eerie, the lyrics a blend of the literal and metaphorical, held side by side—interchangeable. They are mischievously cryptic and yet disarmingly guileless:
“Standing up, standing down, standing takes back bone.”
“The shallow side of the deep end, the far waning of life.”
“Broken elevator, descending faith.”
Most of her show is quite funny, though there are some intensely affecting bits. The most poignant for me was a final moment in the hospital with her fiancé—a testament to her astounding empathy and emotional generosity.
Though she makes very little reference to her art, the thought of it hangs in the air throughout—the ghost of possibilities lost and the shimmer of new forms on the horizon. Her enthusiasm is infections and she leaves us with a sense of sturdy optimism.
Also, we get to meet her guide dog, Catcher, and he’s adorable.