Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fine China

It's Sunday morning and I'm getting going, after a leisurely dim sum breakfast at home. T&T supermarkets has a branch on Cherry Street (part of my regular walk, as this blog well knows), and it's one discovery after another. This huge space is packed full of mostly Asian product. Aside from the long aisles of regular produce, there's a great hot-food deli area, and tons of frozen dim sum items begging to be taken home and steamed into submission. My freezer is full once more! I took some pictures of the charming packaging (how I love seeing produce that I'm not used to, especially with wording other than English), but was pounced on and told I wasn't allowed to. I'll be sure to photograph some of my purchases and post them some time.

Friday night I was at opening night of Yellow Face, playing at Hart House till the end of next week. This play by the Chinese-American writer David Henry Hwang (M Butterfly) premiered in 2007 with the playwright in the lead role, playing... himself. Friday night's performance was the Toronto premiere, and Hart House presented it in partnership with fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company. I enjoyed this tremendously. The set was a simple wooden frame giving a distorted perspective. The costumes were identical: all the men and women were in grey suits (jackets and pants) with white shirts and a small red pocket square - very effective, and allowing some of them to play multiple roles with zero confusion. I'm not sure if this was a fully professional production or not, and it's been my experience that this doesn't always matter anyway. There was some range of strength in the actors, but outstanding in the cast were Kristoffer Pedlar, David Fujino, and especially Emily Opal Smith, who brought to mind the great comic Hollywood actresses, and who I hope to see on stage somewhere again, soon.

The play, which is based on autobiographical experience, reflects on David Henry Hwang's participation in the protests when Jonathan Pryce was brought to Broadway to play the Eurasian pimp in Miss Saigon. What happens next is funny and heartbreaking. The themes of race, what we claim as our history and identity, even what we look like, is examined in Yellow Face. Memorable quote after quote kept leaping out at me. It's a script I'm going to buy and treasure...

... unlike Miss Saigon, whose book and music I hope never to experience again. I saw it last summer. The performances were very fine, with the excellent Ma-Anne Dionisio in the title role. But the music... the agony of one over-wrought, mawkish ballad after another... I would have left at intermission, only I couldn't believe it wouldn't get better. It didn't. The production and the cast were so far above the material. If you want the original, done well, with only a touch of mawkishness, I recommend a good performance of the original work, Madama Butterfly, but good luck finding a good performance of that - it's a tough one to do well. Act II is like a non-stop aria for the soprano, who also has to carry off a most sensitive acting job. Outstanding was the COC's production a couple of years ago, with Yannick-Muriel Noah.

Yellow Face brought up a lot of thoughts and questions, and I found myself pondering two other performances I'd seen recently: two different productions of John Adams' opera, Nixon in China. One was live, the Canadian Opera Company's production here in Toronto; the other I saw in the cinema, the live HD transmission from the Met in NY. Different, but both very strong. And like any good piece of art, I am pondering it still, and the music stays with me, as do some of the words, just seeping up from my subconcious every now and then. I'd see it again. I'd see Yellow Face again, too.

And, on a glibber note, I'll be enjoying my steamed dumplings again.

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