Since its debut two years ago at the Richmond Cultural Centre — where Ga Ting brought grieving Chinese parents face to face with their dead, closeted son’s ex-boyfriend on stage — the play has undergone a major rewrite for its 2016 opening at the Cultch.
“The script now I think is quite a bit edgier than it was in Richmond,” says CE (Chris) Gatchalian, artistic producer of the frank theatre company, which is once again producing the play. “I think the battle, so to speak, between the parents and the boyfriend is quite a bit more even.”
In its earlier incarnation, the play probably privileged the boyfriend’s point of view more than the parents’ point of view, he says.
“Obviously, the boyfriend’s point of view — which is that we should love and accept people for who they are — I personally believe that’s the correct point of view,” he says. “However, I think the issue was that there wasn’t enough weight or legitimacy given to why the parents, in particular the father, had the point of view that he did.”
So Gatchalian worked with playwright Minh Ly and director Rick Tae to put the parents’ perspective on a more even playing field with the boyfriend — to make all the players more equal.
“I think it digs deeper in terms of the intercultural conflict,” Gatchalian says, “and also it does get deeper into the issue of racism — racism within the queer community, and also the misconceptions that white queer people often have about immigrants, and their automatic assumptions about people from certain cultures being less tolerant about sexual non-normativity.”
In Richmond, Gatchalian says, the script only scratched the surface of these issues. “But in this iteration, the script is going more deeply into them. I think it makes for a better play, absolutely.”
It’s not that the frank theatre used the Richmond staging as a focus group, but the creative team listened carefully to some of the comments received afterward from audience members, he says.
“We did get some feedback about this from more discriminating and discerning audience members about what could make the play stronger, people that we trusted,” Gatchalian says.
But it’s not a wholesale rewrite, he stresses
“I would say 20 percent of it is different,” he says. “But the play is more poetic than it was two years ago,” he notes, “and that’s reflected in the set design, which has been reimagined.”
Is it ironic that the new script more articulately reflects the perspectives of the Chinese-Canadian parents now, than it did in Richmond? Even though its new East Vancouver audience may relate more personally to the boyfriend’s perspective, which will now be more strongly contested?
Maybe so, Gatchalian allows, but it makes for a better play.
The Richmond audience was one of the most diverse he has ever seen, he notes, especially in terms of age and ethnicity.
Many audience members later told him they had never seen their experiences portrayed on stage, he says.
“These weren’t necessarily people who were dealing with this particular issue of non-normative sexuality in traditional Asian families,” he says. “Some of them were, but they could still relate to everything that was happening in the story because of the failure of communication — the disconnect between the immigrant parents and the Canadian-born child.”
“I think ultimately, at the core of it, the play is really about the human experiment that is Canada because it is so much about differences and how do we navigate the differences that too often form chasms between us,” he says. “How do we bridge those differences?”