Jason Long has made the world just a little bit better through his thought-inducing portrait of a young couple’s struggle with racism.
Judging by the attentiveness of the high school students from Governor Simcoe and Laura Secord, as well as their observations during the post-performance Q&A, the material was readily understood.
The bickering/loving pair are deftly portrayed by Mayko Nguyen as Chinese-Canadian (with particular emphasis on the latter) Christine and Colin Doyle who brings Irish-Canadian (along with a smattering of other countries swirling around in his heritage soup), basketball fanatic Joey to multi-layered life.
Jackie Chau’s set is an inventive collection of chain fence and graffiti-covered walls (notably iconic symbols of peace, love and winged change). One can’t help but get the feeling that Maria and Tony from West Side Story might join the action at any moment.
As good as the lines are, it’s the frequent pauses (the revelation of an unexpected family connection had the actors and the room spellbound with implication) and silences (Joey’s verbal diarrhoea opening is accompanied by a mute Christine—clearly upset—soon has the desired effect: What is she so annoyed about?) that give the play much of its power. A few collective moments of uncomfortable self-examination (I could never utter such hurtful epithets as “Chinese men are short due to an overdose of rice” … right?) are proof positive that “no one can cast the first stone” when it comes to moral superiority.
Doyle does an excellent job of masking his own transgressions against a stereotypical convenience store proprietor of colour. When she finally gives voice to her burning anger, Nguyen adopts a near courtroom style that quickly unravels more truth than she’d bargained for. Whether real or intentionally faux (depending on the moment of truth), Doyle finds just the right balance of incredulity and outrage to keep everyone wondering what other hidden facts might surface. Not least of those are Christine’s, whose own shame oozes to the surface like an oil slick that’s forever damaged an innocent being.
Between the arguments, the abundant love and genuine concern for each other kept the teenage crowd fully engaged to the point of a collective “coo” when the notion that true love can survive any setback. Like two recently reviewed films (cross-references below) the apparent desire to be “normal” seems as elusive as political promises kept.
Director Rae Ellen Bodie (like all of us at various times in our lives) has drawn on her own racist past and managed to mould the two characters into a convincing whole—neither, by journey’s end, can claim to have won this battle of the sexes. Here’s hoping that the young minds (and their teachers) in attendance (and all future audiences) will be able to confront then stare down their own racist behaviour or truly think before speaking/acting the next time the opportunity to mock someone different or weaker comes along. That’s no laughing matter. JWR