Broadcast text reviews of BANANA BOYS and DOMESTICATED

by Lynn on November 21, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. Banana Boys at the Factory Studio Theatre until Nov. 22; and Domesticated at the Berkeley Street Theatre until Dec. 13, 2015.

The host was Phil Taylor.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What’s up for this week?

Two plays. One is Banana Boys by Leon Aureus about five Asian Canadian friends trying to find their way and identity.

And the other is Domesticated, by Bruce Norris. It’s about a politician involved with a prostitute that goes horribly wrong and how it affects his family.

Let’s start with >Banana Boys.

It’s based on the book by Terry Woo that has been adapted into the play by Leon Aureus. The play was first done in 2005, also by Factory Theatre. And it’s remounted here.

It’s part of the Factory Theatre’s Naked Season, in which all the plays chosen are noted Canadian plays being given a production that is stripped to the bare basics in set, costumes and lighting—hence Naked.

It’s about five Asian Canadian men –Rick , Sheldon, Mike, Dave, and Luke, who have all been friends since high school.

While they each have their own issues with identity, relationships and each other, their attention seems to revolve around Rick Wong, their handsome, ambitious go-getter. Rick wants to be rich in his own business; drive expensive cars; and bed as many women as he can. He also plans to marry. Fidelity is not one of his strong points. His friends think he has it all and they are envious.

One of them dies young and so the play fluctuates back and forth over time. We see how the various stories develop and how they got to the present, the place where they have to bury their friend.

As the stories are revealed—one has a crush on a young woman who keeps him dangling, occasionally looking kindly on him, but then not answering his calls; two others have a relationship that is rocky, etc. – they all cling to each other for support and understanding.

What does the term “Banana Boys” mean?

“Banana Boys’ is a derogatory term the five men call each other, citing a banana, which is yellow on the outside and white on the inside in which they don’t fully belong to either culture. So in a sense the play is about how can they be true to their culture but still look to a better, expanded future without trying to look as if they sold out.

How does it fit into the Naked Season?

Director Nina Lee Aquino plays the whole thing on a raised platform with a cut out square in the middle. That is all for the set. Lighting is minimal.

To update the play, cell phones are used extensively for everything from making phone calls to texting to showing videos and pictures.

At the beginning of the play we see that a body is laid out under the platform. As the story is told, and the plays shifts back and forth in time, we realize who that body is and how he affected his friends and the affect of his friends on him.

Aquino also directs it with great speed. There is a lot of energy to this production. Lots of athletic activity; constant movement; a boyish liveliness.

The acting is uniformly strong with individual performances that are finely defined. Rick is the center of the play and Simu Liu, as Rick is confident with a touch of a swagger. He is the center of their universe and he knows it and plays on that.

Has the play held up since it was first done in 2005?

I think it does to a point. Their problems of fitting in; finding love; being slighted; being promiscuous; are universal problems. In the glaring light of 2015, I think more could be established about why they feel they don’t fit into their Asian world or the ‘white’ world.

And tell us about Domesticated. A subject ripped from the headlines.

This is the Canadian Premier of this play written by American Bruce Norris, and produced by A Company Theatre and Canadian Stage Company. Norris writes plays about thorny issues, Clybourne Park for example. That was a play that looked at the world of A Raisin in the Sun from the ‘white’ experience.

In this one, Bill is a doctor/politician who has been caught in a career-crushing, family-destroying situation. He was with a prostitute; she hit her head on the bedpost and the result was that she was in a coma. Bill calls 911. The media gets a hold of it. Help comes but Bill’s whole life is now in upheaval.

So yes, we are reminded of the Eliott Spitzer case. He was the governor of New York in which he repeatedly cheated on his wife with prostitutes. There is that famous image of him with his wife standing beside him as he resigned. She looked depressed, angry and hardened by humiliation. That’s what we get here, but Norris is too clever to just make this into a sex scandal play.

What does he do?

He presents it like the science presentation of a young girl examining the mating practices of male and female animals/insects, for the most part. The young girl giving the presentation is Bill and Judy’s adopted daughter Cassidy (Abigail Pew). There are several examples of animals etc. that are projected on a screen with the girl speaking into a microphone explaining the species. (One wished Ms Pew was helped to speak more clearly to get the nuances of what she was describing) There are pictures of how some animals (male) are all garish with plumage or horns etc. in order to attract the woman. Sometimes the male dominates the female. Often the female overpowers the male, trapping him.

The last example in the various examples is Bill and Judy and how they are coping and so the play begins. And yes Bill comes out with his wife Judy to formally resign from office.

Bill reads tentatively from his prepared statement but then tries to make light of his problems. He knows it’s a bad move. His wife Judy is stoical by his side but boy is she ticked off at him. The extent of what he did comes out gradually and in a rather daring way.

How so?

The first Act Is Judy’s. Bill rarely speaks. He is put in a position where he seems to try and give his side but is cut off. He accepts it and keeps silent. But then Act II is Bill’s. It’s not so much that he’s given a chance to speak. Rather we see what kind of a person he is. He’s in a bar chatting up the female bartender. We also see how his life has changed. Do we judge him? Is he totally unsympathetic but made sympathetic by a fine actor? Is the play tipped in Judy’s favour because she has the first Act and she is a wronged wife?

Does the production give you any hints?

I think it’s a carefully directed production by Philip Riccio. The set is very minimalist. Table and chairs when needed; food at dinner scenes.

You certainly need stylish, confident actors to bring this off and you have that in spade with Martha Burns as Judy and Paul Gross as Bill. Martha Burns is the politician’s wife. She stands by her man’s side, a slight smile as she looks up at him. She does not lay her anger out with a trowel. It’s a performance of building hurt and realization. She tries to make the best of a bad deal.

As Bill, Paul Gross is dashing, attractive and at once contrite but also flippant as he goes off his written speech to comment how silly this contrition is. But it’s Gross’s body language that speaks volumes when he is silent. A foot circling the air to show his frustration; a shift in his seat that looks like he will speak but doesn’t.

Both performances are full of tiny details that build strong cases for both sides. It’s a strong company with two fierce performances at the centre.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at twitter @slotkinletter.

Banana Boys plays at the Factory Studio Theatre until Nov. 22.

Domesticated plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs until Dec. 13.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.