About Jaclyn

I'm a total bookaholic! Fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, YA, science fiction, I read practically anything and everything. I also love talking about books, and chatting about books with people who love them as much as I do!

Review | Acquiesce, David Yee

36152805acquiesce is such a powerful, emotionally resonant play about a man flying to Hong Kong for his father’s funeral. Sin is a Toronto author, who hasn’t spoken to his father for years, and so feels ill-qualified to do tasks expected of a dutiful son, such as giving his father’s eulogy. As the play progresses, various characters — Sin’s cousin, his father’s doctor — call him out for his lack of filial piety, but gradually, the story also unfolds to let us know the reason behind the estrangement in the first place.

There is so much to unpack in this play that I don’t even know where to start. I can attest to how strong it is on the page and can only imagine how powerful it plays out on stage.

The themes of family and filial piety are even more resonant to me because of the cultural context Yee incorporates so well into his play. There’s a lot of references to Chinese traditions around death, and how Sin is expected to honour them, and how difficult these are for Sin to do given how he feels about his father. One example is how Sin is expected to give his father’s eulogy — a difficult task in itself, made more difficult by the requirement to give it in Cantonese, a language Sin doesn’t speak. Sin’s cousin translates the eulogy for him and tells him to read it phonetically, and this just emphasizes how artificial the act of eulogizing his father feels for Sin.

The theme of cycles is also really strong. This is emphasized in the narrative’s non-linear structure, and most powerfully driven home in the reason behind Sin and his father’s estrangement. When Sin has to wash his father’s body for burial, he learns that he and his father may have had more similar childhoods than he’d initially realized, and that the things his father did may have been learned behaviours. Worse, Sin finds himself acting in a similar way towards his girlfriend, and realizes he himself has just as much potential to continue perpetuating a harmful cycle.

There’s also a surrealistic feel to the story, with a talking Paddington Bear and symptoms of hallucinations in both Sin and his father. For Sin’s father, the hallucinations were symptoms of the disease that ended up killing him, and tellingly, Sin pleads with the doctor for a similar physical reason rather than face the possibility that his hallucinations may be psychological. Tellingly, the scene ends with the doctor coughing up pearls, which Sin did a few scenes ago, and one wonders if this scene actually happened or if it was all in Sin’s mind.

The play keeps us off balance in terms of what is and isn’t real, but the emotional core ultimately rings true. The ending almost feels too pat for such a complex story, but I can also imagine how powerfully that moment can play onstage. As a fun sidebar, I see from the cast list in the book that Richard Lee was in the original cast, whom I remember seeing in the 2017 stage production of Kim’s Convenience. He impressed me as Jung in Kim’s Convenience, and I can imagine how great he’d be as Sin’s cousin Kai. (See the Globe and Mail’s review of the stage version here.)

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Thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Josephine Knot, Meg Braem

39789091“Grandmothers will always die and their houses will always be pulled apart like meat from ribs.” So begins Meg Braem’s The Josephine Knot, a compelling play about a woman and her father settling Baba’s (her grandmother’s) estate upon her death. Various relatives have come to the grandmother’s house to lay claim on the belongings they wish to keep, before the rest of the objects in the house are either sold or thrown away. As the eldest son, David has taken charge of the proceedings, and coordinates the movements throughout the house with efficiency. His daughter Samantha is having a visibly harder time coming to terms with her Baba’s death, and hates the thought of her Baba’s belongings going to relatives who barely knew her and who wouldn’t value the objects in the way they deserve.

It’s a moving play, and made even more powerful because the play features only two actors, and the various relatives are played by the same actors who portray Samantha and David. I loved reading stage directions like “The actor playing DAVID shifts physically into playing BABS.” It drives home the point about how interconnected all these characters are, and I can imagine how much emotional nuance it adds to see the same actor depicting such a diverse range of emotions. In one of the latter scenes, the actor playing Samantha shifts into the role of Baba herself, in a conversation with David shortly before she dies. It’s a powerful scene in itself, but I love imagining how having the same actor play both roles blurs the lines between generations, and recalls the emotional tensions between David and both characters at the same time.

The play also shows some very real, visceral glimpses into what it’s like when someone dies. There’s a great scene where Samantha and her cousin Stephie are discussing a pair of plastic deer. Stephie wants them for the front yard of the house she and her fiance Robbie will move into when they get married; Samantha wants them because:

I played with them when I was little. I made us be very still so the hunter couldn’t see us. I love their glass eyes that glow orange. [p. 24]

The catch is that only one of the deer can fit into Samantha’s apartment, and Stephie convinces her they need to be taken as a set. Eventually, Samantha agrees to let Stephie take the deer and, in an aside, Stephie admits she plans to saw off the tops and plant begonias inside.

The Josephine Knot is a moving story about families, and the complex emotions that can arise after a family member dies. It’s compelling in print and I can imagine how moving it is when performed.

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Thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | Gertrude and Alice, Anna Chatterton, Evalyn Parry and Karin Randoja

38712267Fans of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas will enjoy Gertrude and Alice, a play whose script has just been published by Playwrights Canada Press. The play features the couple breaking the fourth wall and regaling the audience with their love story.

The dialogue is fantastic. Chatterton, Parry and Randoja have integrated text written by the real Gertrude and Alice (indicated in italics in the script) into the speeches, and somehow make it all sound natural, so that if I didn’t see the italics in the script, I wouldn’t be able to tell which parts were quotes.

 

The love, affection and attraction between the women also comes through very clearly in the text. There’s a moment where reading a poem together leads to an orgasm, and even a simple dialogue about lunch sounds very sensual:

GERTRUDE

Alice what’s for lunch?

ALICE

A flan of mushrooms a la creme.

GERTRUDE

A flan of mushrooms a la creme. A flan of mushrooms a la creme… a flan of mushrooms a la creme… a flan of mushrooms a la creme… hearts of artichokes?

ALICE

Butter. Everything smothered in butter.

GERTRUDE

Potatoes smothered in butter. Bread smothered in butter. Omelet in an overcoat. [p. 32]

Chatterton, Parry and Randoja have a wonderful ear for language, and even with just seeing the words on the page, I can imagine it coming to life onstage.

The play also gives us a nice glimpse into the lives they led, which all feels somewhat glamorous, and features literary friends like Ernest Hemingway.

The book also includes a beautiful ‘blue cahier’, which details some highlights of the lives and careers of Gertrude and Alice. The characters refer to it throughout as “the program,” and copies are intended to be handed out to audience members at every performance. The reproduction in the published version is beautiful, with glossy pages, black and white photographs and colour decorations (e.g. tape holding the photos to the page). It also includes commentary in two different handwritings, a visual extension of Gertrude and Alice’s conversation.

And if you want to see the play performed, Buddies in Bad Times is putting on a production from September 15 – October 7, 2018. Details and tickets online.

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Thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.