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God Said This: bluntly

by | Jun 3, 2023 | Review | 0 comments

publicity photo for God Said This

Maki Yi, Yoshie Bancroft, and Stephanie Wong (Photo: Chelsea Stuyt Photography)

Leah Nanako Winkler’s God Said This explores important experiences, but does so in annoyingly sentimental and on-the-nose ways. Fortunately, in this Pacific Theatre production, there are significant rewards in both the performances and physical production.

In the central story, Hiro has just returned from New York, where she lives, to Kentucky, where she grew up — because her mom Masako is undergoing chemotherapy for a particularly pernicious form of uterine cancer. Hiro has a serious hate on for her father James, a recovering alcoholic who abused Masako and their two daughters when the girls were growing up. Although the play’s resolution is a foregone conclusion, its central tension is about whether Hiro will be able to forgive her dad in time to make her mom happy.

At first, I thought individual scenes were playing pretty well, but about halfway through Act 1, I started to notice the lack of narrative progression. The script treads water because it is so anecdotal. Hiro meets up with a high-school friend named John, which allows the playwright to get into Hiro’s compulsive sexuality. John’s ex is a heroin addict. A friend of theirs was in a catastrophic car crash. Hiro’s younger sister Sophie has an accident of her own. The list goes on. Unsurprisingly, the scenes that explore these more-or-less tangential ideas work better than the overall whole.

The treatment of the central notion of forgiveness is disappointingly deliberate: the characters spit out thematic statements. “Why do you always need a man around?” Sophie asks Hiro. “Now is the time to be here.” Later on, just in case we’re really thick, Hiro declares, “I need to forgive Dad for the sake of Mom.”

The resolution of this central tension is superficial. There’s a spoiler coming up, so read no further if you want to avoid it.

When Hiro asks Sophie how she managed to forgive James, Sophie explains that James’s love language is candy. After he abused Masako, he’d buy candy bars for the girls. And that, somehow, is supposed to be enough. That is what the plot turns on.

Then there’s the sentimentality. James to Masako: “Of course you can’t see the light, Masako, because you are the light.”

So the script is disorganized and manipulative.

But, under Kaitlin Williams’s direction, there are a couple of very engaging performances in this production. Sebastien Archibald’s work as John is perfection. And, to give the playwright her due, John is an original character, a guy you might want to dismiss as a hick, but who is absolutely not dismissible as such. In his vivacious portrayal, Archibald nails every note of the character’s freewheeling intelligence, humour, and depth of feeling.

Playing Masako, Maki Yi is also excellent. Yi has to carry a lot of the play’s emotional weight, which requires a massive amount of vulnerability. She does so unflinchingly — and with grace.

These two are embedded in a strong ensemble.

I was also knocked out by Alaia Hamer’s set design. Hamer covers one wall of Pacific Theatre’s alley-style space with a gorgeous construction of warmly stained wood that features vertical battens and soft, embedded lights. The opposite wall is a swirl of skilfully rendered pastel pink-and-blue clouds.

There’s admirable artistry in this interpretation of God Said This. I just wish the script was more sophisticated.

GOD SAID THIS By Leah Nanako Winkler. Directed by Kaitlin Williams. A Pacific Theatre production. On Friday, June 2. Running at Pacific Theatre until June 24. Tickets and info

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