Gramma: this 75 minutes could age you

Pacific Theatre is presenting Maki Yi's play Gramma.

(Photo of Maki Yi by Emily Cooper)

Playwright and solo performer Maki Yi means well with Gramma and it starts off promisingly, but it quickly becomes very boring.

Gramma is based on the relationship that Korean-Canadian Yi had with her first Canadian landlady, a demanding 90-year-old woman who allowed Yi to live in her Regina basement rent-free on the condition that Yi answer to her every whim.

Yi is an engaging performer — playful, fearless, physical, and open-hearted — and those qualities are apparent right off the top as she interweaves the story of her Canadian odyssey with a Korean folktale about a character named Simchong.

Simchong is the embodiment of filial loyalty — she agrees to be sacrificed at sea so that her blind father can regain his eyesight — and Simchong becomes the standard by which Yi’s character, Woman, judges herself. Did she leave South Korea to spare her parents the embarrassment of having an unmarried adult daughter or did she abandon her obligations to them to pursue self-interest? And what, exactly, are her obligations to the demanding old woman upstairs?

Unfortunately, the relationship between Woman and Gramma is one-note, although that note becomes louder and louder. Gramma is a bag. She’s demanding, stingy, and insulting. Gramma refuses to adequately heat or light Woman’s dingy basement, Woman’s chores are endless and, when her rubber gloves spring a leak, Gramma refuses to buy new ones. Gramma berates Woman loudly in private and in public. By comparison, Cinderella’s time with her stepmother looks like a holiday.

As the show works its way through 75 long minutes, Gramma gets more demanding and she and Woman yell at one another with increasing frequency — but nothing really changes except the volume.

The repetitiveness is deadly. For at least the last half hour, I was desperately willing the show to end.

There is one twist in the plot. When Gramma goes into a care facility, Woman misses her oppressor and berates herself for not treating her better. To me — and, admittedly, I’m coming from a different cultural perspective — this affection and self-criticism feel sentimental and misplaced.

Yi should have received better dramaturgical support.

GRAMMA By Maki Yi. Directed by Laura McLean. A Pacific Theatre production at Pacific Theatre on Friday, January 17.  Continues until February 1. Tickets.


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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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