by Lynn on September 22, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, co-produced by Soulpepper, Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and Prairie Theatre Exchange. Playing until Oct. 9.

Written by Ins Choi

Directed by Meg Roe

Set and props by Sophie Tang

Sound and music by Deanna H Choi

Costumes by Brenda McLean

Lighting by Gerald King

Cast: Josette Jorge

Raugi Yu

A play that will prick the attention of a lot of people because of the subject matter—parenting, raising children, coping with a crying baby and not having a clue about what to do about it.

The Story. Bad Parent is a comedy about the trials and tribulations of first-time parents. In this case, Nora and her husband Charles are the parents of an 18-month-old boy named Mountain. That was Charles’ choice for a name not really Nora’s.  They can’t agree on anything about raising the baby. Nora is still nursing him and Charles thinks the baby is past that at 18 months. The baby still sleeps in their bed because he cries when they put him in his crib and they can’t stand it.  Charles buys a bed for Mountain at Ikea and doesn’t tell Nora about his decision. He just brings the box home and begins to assemble it. They can barely agree on how they met. Nora worked in film production before taking a leave to have the baby. Charles wrote jingles and Nora got him a job with her production company as a music supervisor. Nora longs to go back to work and does by hiring a nanny without telling Charles.

The Production. Set and props designer Sophie Tang, has created a child’s toy room with a wall unit compartmentalized into squares in which each square is packed either with lots of toys or containers for toys. There is a hamper with clothes on the floor and lots and lots of toys strewn around the floor.

As the audience fills into the theatre, Raugi Yu as Charles enters with a large IKEA box and proceeds to unpack all the stuff needed for the baby’s bed. I’m mighty impressed that he can put the thing together without frustration or incident—there is a moment when Charles does bang his finger, but for most of it, his dexterity with those ‘notorious’ ‘simple’ pictorial instructions is impressive.

In the meantime, Josette Jorge enters on stage and engages with the audience. I’m not sure what she is saying but she seems very personable in her interactions and I’m not sure if she is in character as Nora. Perhaps this is director Meg Roe illuminating that this is theatre and Josette Jorge is ‘breaking’ the fourth wall?

Ok, let’s address the ‘elephant in the room’:   Does it help people to empathize with the characters in the play if one has children?

I’m subscribing to the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. Of course, those of us who don’t have children have a different take on the play. Those of us who have extensive babysitting experience with young cousins and family members can use that to provide a sense that we have some idea of how difficult raising young kids is. (Note: all the kids for whom I babysat are all grown or getting there, well-adjusted and not harmed by my baby-sitting abilities and are still talking to me, or at least most of them are).  We have all sorts of advice on how to raise children since they aren’t ours. It seems a clear-eyed view when you can say “thank you and good night” and go home, leaving the baby/kid with the parents.

Playwright Ins Choi, offers some interesting insights into the difficulty of raising the child, by the structure of the play. Nora and Charles address the audience directly, talking into microphones as if trying to get us on their side. In a way it’s the modern way of doing things. Every idea, thought, accusation etc. has to be public as if constantly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We learn Nora and Charles’ innermost thoughts, concerns, accusations of the other, the bickering.  They are almost always side by side vying for our attention and favour.

To make matters even more interesting, both actors: Josette Jorge as Nora and Raugi Yu as Charles also play the nanny, also called Norah but spelled with an ‘h’ and Dale, a male colleague of Nora at the film company. In those cases, the other characters deal directly.  So, Dale talks directly to Nora without the microphones. And Norah the nanny talks directly to Charles, who has gotten over his irritation at not being consulted when his wife hired the nanny.  Both Nora and Charles seem to relax and are less anxious when dealing with Dale and Norah respectively, who support and encourage them. In the case of Norah the nanny, Charles is even more grateful for her presence because she puts Mountain in his crib to sleep and he stays there without crying. And Norah can cook wonderful dishes from her native Philippines. She is supporting her two sons who are back home and her dream is to save enough money to bring them to this country. 

Charles comes up with the great idea that Norah should open a food truck since her food is so delicious. Charles will do the jingle and marketing for the truck and his wife Nora can do the business plan. Of course, Charles hasn’t told Nora of this yet.  Perhaps a bit of a glitch in the play is that if Norah is working in the food truck, then she can’t be the nanny anymore. There is no reference about this, except that Nora the wife is aghast at the idea of the food truck because she thinks her inheritance from her mother will be used to fund the truck.  

It’s hard to tell who is the bad parent. I think that’s part of the irony of the play—it’s not called Bad Parents. Both Nora and Charles blame each other and would say the other is the bad parent.

It seems like a lot to unpack here.  Director Meg Roe does an earnest job of directing her committed cast of Josette Jorge as both Nora and Norah and Raugi Yu as both Charles and Dale. When Josette Jorge and Raugi Yu are playing husband and wife the tone is relentlessly argumentative and combative, and even ramps up as their frustration with the other escalates, and that’s tiresome.

At one point Nora says that she has been berated by opinionated people who criticize her for still nursing Mountain, and then she takes a baby bottle from a shelf and leaves as if to feed him. Is this a change in her attitude? Should that not be acknowledged in the play?  

When Josette Jorge and Raugi Yu are playing the Nora the nanny and Dale the colleague the scenes are more varied and even funnier. Josette Jorge as Norah the nanny is particularly nuanced and personable.

Truth to tell, I found Bad Parent frustrating. It’s not that either Nora or Charles is a bad parent. It’s that both of them are a lousy couple because they don’t talk or listen to each other. It’s obvious for 75 of the 90 minutes of the play. They seem to be spiraling out of control in how to deal with each other, never mind the child, and I reckon, it’s obvious to the audience that they need to talk and listen to each other and not us and deal with everything.

They finally do that in the last bit of the play. They look at each other and actually talk. So often there is a good parent who is firm and consistent and the bad parent who crumbles and gives in all the time. That can be funny, but it’s also frustrating because the consequences of these confused messages to the child results in one spoiled, confused kid. It’s like the audience is watching an accident happen that they know how to prevent it quickly.

I can appreciate that people having children are not trained to be parents. They learn on the job.But in Bad Parentneither Nora nor Charles seems to have any kind of consensus about anything and their constant disagreement is not funny, it’s frustrating at best and concerning since even the simplest of conversations didn’t take place before this momentous decision to have a child, regarding how that kid will be raised. It’s not that Nora and Charles are not on the same page. It’s more like there isn’t even a page on which to be on together.

Comment. Many of us might not have children, but we sure live in a world full of lots of parents’ screwups.

At the introductions of the crew etc. at the end of the opening performance, Ins Choi was introduced and came to the stage to read a poem he wrote to help guide him through the writing process. The poem was about soldiering through, keeping on keeping on, staring at the blank page but not being defeated. It was a wonderful poem. I hope all the poems he wrote get published. Ins Choi is a gifted writer/playwright/poet. I think Bad Parent needs a re-think and a re-write to make its bumps less obvious.

A co-production with Soulpepper Theatre Company Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and Prairie Theatre Exchange, presents:

Plays until: Oct. 9, 2022.

Running Time: 90 minutes, (no intermission).

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