Rice Rockets and Yacht People:
Bet you haven't seen Chinese-Canadians like this before!
By Simon Johnston. Directed by Barbara Tomasic.
Gateway Theatre until Saturday, May 13
Emily Piggford and Nick Ko play teen siblings Winnifred and Leonard Lee – photo courtesy of Gateway Theatre
Winnifred Lee is a pre-teen sharing her journal writing with the
audience. Her older brother Leonard has just is yet to learn to
drive and his hobbies are smoking marijuana, but soon they will include
souping up Honda Civics, and racing them. Typical teens.
Their parents Barb and Ken have to go to Shanghai on business, because
the New China is the place to make money. They leave the kids
Astronaut wives, street racers and rich Chinese immigrants who don't
care about potential Canadian heritage sites are the new stereotypes in
Vancouver. But they are based on some truths. Welcome to
the new contemporary Asian-Canadian issues in Simon Johnston's new play
“Rice Rockets and Yacht People.”
“Another boring story about building the railway,” whines Ken Lee,
after attending the latest Chinese Canadian Arts fundraising
gala. “Why are they always concerned about the past? Chinese
people look to the future!” he declares. His wife is 5th
generation Canadian, but she goes along with her immigrant husband, as
they are both concerned more with making money, wearing the right
clothes, rather than reading books about child raising by Barbara
Bob (Dawn Petten) comforts a distraught Leonard (Nick Ko), while his parents Barb and Ken Lee (Lara Ong and Raugi Yi) look on.
Lara Ong and Raugi Yi do good turns playing Barb and Ken Lee, the
wealthy Asian couple, who spend months at a time in Shanghai, while
leaving the kids on their own. Nick Ko plays Leonard, the sullen
teen who can only express himself while rapping to the audience.
An Asian rapper? Not black? Young Asians are fast expanding
on the rap and hip hop scene or didn't you notice? Honda Civics
are accompanied by Honda Preludes and Accura Integras and RSX's on the
street racing circuit now dominated by young Asian dudes, long since
replacing the Camaros and Firebirds that were synominous with young
asian males when I was growing up.
Rice Rockets is the first half of the presentation, that really deals
with the issues that Winnifred and Leonard face. Yacht People
deals almost exclusively with Barb, Ken and Bob (not Roberta), a white
female employee that works in the factory that the Lee's have just
sold. Bob (Dawn Petten) shows up one evening and challenges the
values and judgements of the Lee's. She offers to buy the old
farmhouse that the Lee's have bought, declaring that she is entitled to
it because it used to belong to her grandfather before he lost it
during the depression. Bob offers the Lee's $100,000 because
that's what she figures it would be worth if the Asian immigrant
invasion hadn't driven up all the local real estate prices.
Who is entitled to their rightful place in Canada? New immigrants
who invest money, create jobs and help expand the economy? Or is
it the “lazy whining Canadians” who were here first, but don't work
hard, spend their time on recreation when they can, but feel a sense to
Rice Rockets and Yacht People pushes the buttons. It doesn't
point fingers at only one ethnic group, but it balances the issues and
presents different views, leaving the audience to judge.
The afternoon I attended there were some high school students and
seniors, who all seemed to really enjoy the play. The audience
reactive to the stage actions and the dialogue, and the actors
responded positively. They all shared that they really liked
being able to explore new characters who haven't been expressed like
the characters in Rice Rockets and Yacht People, playing against the
usual stereotypes and traditional roles.
Definitely… go see this play!