by Lynn on November 6, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by David Yee
Directed by Nina Lee Aquino
Set by Robin Fisher
Costumes by Joanna Yu
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Sound and composed by Michelle Bensimon
Cast: Richard Lee
John Ng
Rosie Simon
David Yee

A play about tradition, custom, familial responsibility and growing up. The production is beautifully directed by Nina Lee Aquino.

The Story. It’s about a successful writer who is summoned from Canada to Hong Kong by his cousin, Kai, to bury his father. Sin Hwang has not seen his father in 15 years, yet he is instructed by Kai to come to Hong Kong to bury his father. Kai is mysterious too—he doesn’t tell Sin Hwang that his father’s body is on the plane from Canada to Hong Kong. Kai is a traditional Chinese man and follows ritual and tradition carefully. He tells Sin Hwang that the oldest son must be responsible for the burial of his father. Sin Hwang is an only child and so the duty of burial falls to him. Through the course of the play Sin Hwang learns to respect ritual and tradition.

Sin Hwang also has a girlfriend named Nine (it’s a nickname, an insider joke) who keeps appearing to him even though they have broken up.

The Production. The production is beautifully directed by Nina Lee Aquino. Scenes are fluid and move with grace. It has the sense of two worlds, the Eastern mystical world and the direct, matter of fact Western world. Robin Fisher’s set is efficient and spare. Drawers appear from hidden places and disappear when they are not needed. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting is evocative as is Michelle Bensimon’s music.

David Yee plays Sin Hwang a confused man in search of answers about his father and perhaps he searches for himself as well. Yee imbues Sin Hwang with a sadness, a lack of direction. He is unsettled by the request to bury his father. That sets him off on his own journey. As Nine, Rosie Simon has an edge of a woman who is disappointed with a man who seems to let her down too often. John Ng plays various parts with style from an inquisitive passenger sitting next to Sin Hwang on a plane, to Sin Hwang’s cold, stand-offish father.

Interestingly, I think the cousin, Kai is the best written character in it. Kai is the embodiment of the Eastern way of thought. Kai is formal in his demeanor and speech. He is dutiful to his late father who died disappointed, poor and sick, when his uncle (Sin Hwang’s father) left for Canada to seek his fortune. Yet Kai shows no malice when his uncle comes to visit. He does speak his mind with respect, but the words are pointed and clear. Kai is played beautifully by Richard Lee who has a simple grace and courtliness in his demeanor. He is controlled, temperate and respectful. It’s a lovely performance.

Comment. There are many questions and mysteries in the play. Do Sin Hwang and his late father share a dangerous temper and perhaps that might explain the bruises and cuts on their bodies? Is Sin Hwang hallucinating when he continues to see his ex-girlfriend in various places? What is Sin Hwang really looking for in his search for answers about his father? I wonder why Sin Hwang hasn’t seen his father in 15 years—who left whom and why? That I have to ask weakens the play.

That said, I think Acquiesce is David Yee’s most deeply thought play to date. It’s a combination of Eastern mysticism and Western cheesy humour. Yee too often falls for the easy, glib joke. But his philosophical questioning about responsibility, duty, ritual and tradition is quite affecting.

While I did have a few concerns about the play I do recommend it on the whole.

Presented by Factory Theatre, Mainspace.

Opened: Nov. 3, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 27, 2016.
Cast: 4; 3 men, 1 woman.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.

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