Our youngest reviewer, a recent Grant MacEwan grad, was able to catch Lunchbox Theatre’s production of Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets on a sold out night! Make sure you book your tickets pronto as many performances are nearly full! Here’s what he had to say about the world premiere of playwright Dale Lee Kwong’s heart warming family story:
Upon entering Lunchbox’s theatre, a good sized venue for the large audience filling the seats for Friday’s performance, the tone of the show was instantly established. The powerful and somewhat ominous reds of the set (courtesy of Terry Gunvordahl) paired with the excellent sound design of Aidan Lytton, help to introduce the audience to the significance of Chinese culture in this story. While universal, the story also gives great knowledge and insight into this very present, very particular culture. To someone who is unfamiliar with a lot of Chinese culture, it was a revealing learning experience.
The lights go down, and from the darkness, a spotlight introduces us to the protagonist Jade, a young gay woman born in Canada to very traditional Chinese parents. Two other spotlights reveal them, and Lillian and Charlie Wong stand out as clear contrasts to their daughter. It doesn’t take long before we can empathize with Jade’s story as we witness the generational and cultural conflicts within her family; friction between old and new, contemporary and traditional, the differing definitions of love and loyalty. We see especially stark contrasts between Jade and her mother, played by Chantelle Han. Lillian Wong only wants what she thinks is best for her daughter, but struggles with the inevitable strain between them- one woman tied to her culture, the other desperate to break free.
The clever and sometimes slapstick comedy of the show never failed to raise a laugh from the audience. The dialogue was handled with good comedic timing, played out almost like a sitcom with witty interjections and cheeky one liners thrown in cleverly throughout. The overall tone of the show was light hearted, which really allowed the more serious moments to resonate. Once the question of Jade’s homosexuality begins causing conflict in the story, there is a powerful shift in the tone and pace of the show.
The themes of acceptance, culture, sexuality, and identity pose some very difficult and very relevant questions in Dale Lee Kwong’s play. Regardless of one’s cultural background, or the customs they follow, the dynamics within the Wong home are relatable to any family- dysfunctional or otherwise! Kelsey Verzotti’s empathetic performance gives an inner-strength to Jade’s struggle to find balance; to do what is right for herself, in her life, while also doing her best to please her parents.
Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets is a heartwarming, hilarious, and relevant show for this day and age that gives an insight into a world I’ve not seen a lot of theatre touch on. The commitment to one’s culture verses the commitment to one’s self is an intriguing and fascinating struggle to see performed.
Ai Yah! Sweet & Sour Secrets runs at the Lunch Box Theatre in Calgary from now until March 10th. Tickets at www.lunchboxtheatre.com