Archives for October 2016

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…]

Elizabethan drag with a South Asian twist

Piya Behrupiya is playing The Cultch's York Theatre.

In Piya Behrupiya, Twelfth Night takes a trip to India.

A loud yes and a quieter no.

In 2012, London’s Globe Theatre commissioned The Company Theatre of Mumbai to produce a desi (Indian or South Asian) version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Piya Behrupiya, which translates as “Lover Impersonator”, is the raucously charming result. [Read more…]

Why is there a Terence Rattigan revival? Flare Path doesn’t provide easy answers

Terence Rattigan's Flare Path feels old-fashioned.

Curtis Tweedie and Yoshié Bancroft work the WWII romance in Flare Path.

Watching this production of Flare Path is a bit like listening to an old vinyl record that’s being played on a faulty phonograph. For much of the first act, the needle keeps popping out of the groove. When the needle settles, in Act 2, there’s some beautiful music. In other words, under Genevieve Fleming’s direction, this ensemble struggles with style, but eventually gets it more or less right. [Read more…]

The Flick: time to watch

Jesse Reid, Shannon Chan-Kent and Haig Sutherland in Annie Baker’s The Flick

Look! Look how beautiful and complex human beings are!

In Annie Baker’s gorgeous, Pulitzer Prize-winning script The Flick, three employees of a movie theatre hang around, clean up, and talk. It’s minimalist and it’s slow—it goes on for three hours including intermission—and, when it ended, I wanted more.  [Read more…]

Fired from The Georgia Straight

I just got fired from the Georgia Straight. Thirty years*. No warning. No compensation.

Last Tuesday, I emailed arts editor Janet Smith telling her what shows I thought I should review. Instead of the usual confirmation from Janet, I received an email from editor Charlie Smith saying that he and Janet would like to meet with me to discuss “some things that are happening here [at the paper].”

“Jesus,” I thought. “I’m getting the boot.”

As we sat at a table outside the Be Fresh market and café on West 1st Avenue, Janet and Charlie took pains to explain that letting me go was not their decision. The pressure came from unnamed “higher ups.” They had fought the decision to release me, they said, but lost. Charlie was particularly kind about saying how much he appreciates my work as a critic. He also told me that I could be public about anything that was said in that meeting.

“Was there a problem?” I asked. They said the reason I was being let go wasn’t clear to them, but there may have been a confluence of factors.

Charlie pointed out that the paper is experiencing financial challenges and that it was probably easier to get rid of me than a staff person.

Janet said that there’s a lot of pressure on editorial to find fresh ways to do things.

Janet also said that “there have been complaints from some companies.” “What complaints?” I asked. “You know: that you never like anything,” she answered with a laugh. I replied that it’s very hard to do good theatre and that I figure, if one show in three is worth recommending, that’s a good average. Then she added that some unnamed complainants feel that I am sometimes too hard on younger artists.* (There is nothing I enjoy more than championing younger artists.) She gave an example. It was one of the worst shows of the year.

Janet said she thought that the door was only closed on reviewing, that I might still be able to write previews or other articles. Charlie said that he would gladly give me a recommendation or connect me with potential employers. I asked if I could have a couple of months before being laid off so that I could have some time to adjust to the loss of income. In the meeting, Charlie said he’d ask. Two days later, in response to an email inquiry, he wrote: “As Janet indicated, the company is not going to purchase reviews.” He confirmed that I would still be welcome to pitch previews and other articles. Writing previews for the Straight has become an increasingly minor part of my job there and is no longer significant in terms of income.

But I’m not going away. I love the theatre and I love writing about it. I’ll be launching a new initiative. Watch for it. Until then, I will continue to post reviews on this blog.

See you at the theatre.

* Yesterday (March 12, 2018), I did some research at the library—microfilm is tedious—and found out that I wrote for The Straight for 28.5 years, not 30, as I had thought.

* Charlie Smith informed me that he thought he’d said this. 

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