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Bad Parent: Yeah, kinda

by | Oct 15, 2022 | Review | 0 comments

publicity photo for Bad Parent by Ins Choi

Josette Jorge and Raugi Yu deliver super charming performances.
(Photo by Dahlia Katz)

I’m going to suspend judgment on this one. Okay, no, I’m not, I have opinions. But I will acknowledge the context of my response.

First opinion: an hour is long time to watch a couple bickering, especially if you don’t like them very much.

In Ins Choi’s new play Bad Parent, Norah and Charles have an 18-month-old named Mountain and parenthood is putting all kinds of strain on their marriage. Norah, who has been on extended parental leave, wants to return to work; in the office, she’s used to enjoying status and a sense of competence, neither of which she experiences as a mom. In terms that are more difficult for me to grasp, Charles wants to be respected as a man. I don’t know what that means exactly, although he seems to want his arbitrary decisions to go unchallenged and, when a nanny shows up, he’s very happy to be waited on hand and foot. Clearly, Charles also feels incompetent as a parent. He’s worried that Mountain doesn’t like him.

But here’s the thing: Charles is a bit of a dick. He argues, for instance, that he and Norah should just let Mountain cry until he’s exhausted to give Mountain a chance to “man up.” He tests the toddler’s response to lemons and other face-twisting foods. (Why would Mountain like him?) And Charles hits the nanny — Nora with no H — with a cruel and petulant outburst.

Norah is no angel either, of course. She hires the nanny without consulting Charles. And both Norah and Charles flirt on the side.

I understand that the point is they’re both acting like jerks, but Charles is so sexist and solipsistic that I quickly lost interest in him — and in his marriage, which is what’s at stake.

And that’s another problem: the deadening inevitability of the resolution.

None of this is a knock on the performers, who are both fantastic — especially Raugi Yu, who’s playing Charles. He brings an almost clownlike innocence to his portrait and, besides being excellent comic actors, both he and Josette Jorge (Norah) bring winning depths of feeling to their work. Their performances of the characters are so much more appealing than the characters as written.

Also on the plus side, Choi has built textural variation into the play: addressing the audience, both Norah and Charles use microphones as they try to win us over to their side. The aural variety this creates is engaging. And the device of trying to appeal to a crowd, speaks to the overwhelming sense of judgment I know many new parents feel.

Sophie Tang’s set, which makes heavy use of Ikea flat-pack furnishings, is elegantly minimalist and contains some excellent surprises.

There’s more: director Meg Roe’s handling of pace is terrific. The performance begins casually, with Jorge and Yu wandering around the playing area greeting audience members as they come in. And, in the final five minutes of the production, which are by far my favourites, Norah and Charles pass a hand-held mic back and forth slowly, finishing one another’s thoughts in a touchingly intimate exchange.

The script for Bad Parent alienated me. But … I’m not a parent. I have close relationships with my four godchildren and other young ‘uns, but I’ve never had to endure the grind of sleepless nights, for instance. And, after the show, when I talked to a good pal, who is both a parent and a savvy theatregoer, she said that Bad Parent spoke so precisely to her own experiences of early parenthood that it made her chest hurt. Based on the enthusiastic audience reactions throughout the opening night performance and the instant standing ovation, I’d say a lot of people in the house were feeling the same way.

Maybe Bad Parent just isn’t for me. But, as written, Charles is still a dick and surely I’m not the only one for whom that’s going to be a problem.

BAD PARENT By Ins Choi. Directed by Meg Roe. Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre in co-production with Prairie Theatre Exchange and Soulpepper Theatre Company. At The Cultch on Friday, October 14. Running until October 23. Tickets

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