The Music Man: buoyant songs, antique perspective

The Gateway Theatre is producing The Music Man.

Meghan Gardiner is both sensible and vulnerable as Marian Paroo in The Music Man.

It’s charming. It’s tightly produced. And it’s antique.

Weirdly, The Music Man endorses lying. In Meredith Willson and Frank Lacey’s story for this musical, a con man who calls himself Professor Harold Hill arrives in River City, Iowa with plans to sell the townsfolk the instruments, uniforms, and lessons that will allow them to form a children’s marching band. The scam is that Hill, who can’t play a note, will skip town without teaching the kids how to use their instruments.

Marian Paroo, the town librarian and music teacher, sees through Hill but, when he lures her traumatized little brother out of his shell, she starts to fall for him—and is lured out of her own prim shell in the process. [Read more…]

Peter Dickinson’s Long Division is trapped in its head

Pi Theatre is presenting Peter Dickinson's Long Division at the Gateway.

Lauchlin Johnson’s set for Long Division is a beauty.

There should be laws—similar to child labour laws—that prevent the overworking of metaphors.

Playwright Peter Dickinson buries the heart of his play, Long Division, beneath a series of monologues that declare and develop the metaphor of mathematics so academically that almost all of the extended speeches feel more like lectures than stories. [Read more…]

King of the Yees is a muddled fairytale

The Gateway Theatre premiered King of the Yees.

Milton Lim works his accessories in King of the Yees. (David Cooper photo)

If you’re planning to attend King of the Yees, I suggest you arrive at intermission: in terms of the story, the first act is almost entirely irrelevant.

In this new script, playwright Lauren Yee offers a playful, heartfelt—and metatheatrical—take on Chinese-American identity. In the set-up, a character named Lauren Yee, who is also a playwright, is trying to rehearse a script in the hall of a family association that has long been a fixture in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Things go awry when Lauren’s father Larry gets mixed up in a political scandal, which also tangentially involves a Chinese gang.

Unfortunately, the political scandal and Larry’s subsequent disappearance don’t crop up until the very end of Act 1. That means the story doesn’t start until just before it takes a little time off. Up to that point, the first act has consisted of the business about the interrupted rehearsal, which feels clunky, and a series of short scenes that raise important issues, but lack wit as well as dramatic coherence and momentum.

Larry makes the case that his assimilated daughter would do well to appreciate her community and cultural history. He argues for the importance of Chinatowns and knowing the language of your ancestors. The actors, who are named Donna and Raugi in this production because they are being played by Donna Soares and Raugi Yu, talk about the challenges of building their careers as Asian performers: stereotyping, the lack of cultural understanding even among well-meaning producers, and so on. All of these subjects are worth addressing, but they deserve a compelling narrative framework, and they deserve a level of humour more sophisticated than Larry playing air guitar and singing “Secret Asian Man”.

Fortunately, Act 2 improves. Lauren is finally pursuing a goal, which is to find her father, and the script leaps into a wacky land of fairytale. A chiropractor/herbalist adjusts a bone in Lauren’s shoulder and that suddenly allows her to speak Chinese. And three hilarious ghostly figures tell her that she has to make an offering of whiskey, oranges, and firecrackers to unlock a magical set of doors and save her dad. This is all deliberately illustrative and it doesn’t make as much sense on a concrete level as the best fairytales do, but it’s still fun. We get to see a lion dancer, a magical face-changing figure, and a lavishly attired ancestor who flies through the air.

Even though it’s as predictable as morning, the reconciliation, when it arrives, is moving.

Throughout, the acting is first-rate. Andrea Yu has the relatively thankless task of playing Lauren, the straight woman of the piece, but she does a fine job. Jovanni Sy is energetic and, in the end, touchingly understated as Larry. And Soares, Yu, and Milton Lim squeeze every drop of available comic juice out of the script. Their playfulness is infectious.

Pam Johnson’s set, a massive wall of black and rust-coloured doors and shuttered windows, is impressive, if a little alienating. And the wit in Mara Gottler’s costumes ranges from the nerdiness of a supposed audience member to the ornate beauty of the flying ancestor’s robes.

Disclaimer: I’m an old, white guy; much of this show isn’t speaking directly to my experience. Still, in this old white guy’s opinion, in its current state, the script is not well made.

KING OF THE YEES By Lauren Yee. Directed by Sherry J. Yoon. Produced by the Gateway Theatre through a special arrangement with the Goodman Theatre. At the Gateway Theatre on Saturday, October 15. Continues until October 22.

[Read more…]